Tide To Starkville

Alabama goes to Mississippi State to close out the regular season of Southeastern Conference basketball Saturday. One question has been, "What does Bama have to play for?" After all, the Tide has clinched second place (and the first round bye that goes with it) in the SEC Western Division and can't take first place. Alabama is almost certainly in the NCAA Tournament field.

So what does Alabama have to play for?

Well, what does Mississippi State have to play for? The difference between a fourth, fifth or sixth seed in the SEC Tournament? Senior Day? Puh-leeze!

If you think that players only play for "something," you don't understand the psyche of an athlete at this level. If there were no coaches, no referees (and that might be an improvement, based on Bama's last game), no fans, the men who play for Alabama and Mississippi State would still give it their all.

And that will be the case when the Crimson Tide of Coach Mark Gottfried and Coach Rick Stansbury's Mississippi State Bulldogs square off at 4 p.m. CST Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. The game will not be televised.

Alabama is 17-10 overall and 10-5 in SEC play. The Bullies are 14-14 overall and 4-11 in conference games.

Both teams will advance to the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week (March 9-12, with Alabama's first game at 2:15 p.m. Friday, March 10).

In an earlier meeting in Tuscaloosa, Tide freshman Richard Hendrix scored 22 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in a tough 65-59 win over State. That was one of several games this year in which Alabama had a big advantage in free throws, made and attempted. Bama was good on 25 of 40 foul shots while the Bulldogs had only 13 opportunities and made only five of them.

Mississippi State may be without one of its top scorers as Dietric Slater, a 6-3 junior guard averaging 10.1 points per game, suffered a knee injury earlier this week. But the Bulldogs have two very good players in 6-8, 240-pound sophomore Charles Rhodes, averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, and 6-4, 225-pound freshman Jamont Gordon, averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game.

In addition to Hendrix, who averages 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, Alabama will have guard Ron Steele (14.1 points per game), center Jermareo Davidson (14.0 ppg,, 8.9 rpg), forward Evan Brock (4.0 ppg) and guard Brandon Hollinger (2.5).

Alabama has won three in a row over the Bulldogs and five of the last seven and has a 109-65 lead in the all-time series. Mississippi State does have a 49-34 advantage in games played in Starkville, but the Tide has won two in a row in Humphrey.

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