Alabama Must Win Against South Carolina

It's a month until March and longer than that until March Madness, but if Alabama is going to be a player in the NCAA Basketball Tournament for a sixth consecutive year, the Crimson Tide must take care of business, certainly against the likes of South Carolina. Alabama hosts the Gamecocks at 2 p.m. CST Saturday at sold out Coleman Coliseum.

Every home game is in the must win category for Alabama, which has been one of the more disappointing teams in the Southeastern Conference this year. The Tide is coming off a nice road win, a 73-70 win over LSU–which is the SEC's most disappointing team after last year's Final Four appearance. But Bama has much to overcome because it already had two losses to Arkansas and a setback at surprisingly successful Auburn.

It is difficult to say that South Carolina has been unexpectedly disappointing, although the Gamecocks are in last place in the SEC Eastern Division at 2-5 (12-8 overall). Back-to-back NIT appearances don't lead to great expectations, even if South Carolina has been champion of the NIT the past two years.

Alabama's win over LSU boosted the Crimson Tide to a 16-5 record. Although Bama is only 3-4 in SEC play, that's good enough to be only a half game out of first place in the Western Division.

Alabama toyed with its starting lineup last week with 5-11 Brandon Hollinger getting the start t one guard ahead of 6-6 Mykal Riley. But Riley, who averages 12 points and 4.7 rebounds to Hollinger's 4.2 points, had critical back-to-back three-point shots and a pair of clutch free throws in the comeback win over LSU.

Otherwise, Bama is expected to go with 6-3 Ron Steele 9.7 points per game), 6-6 Alonzo Gee (14 points, 5.7 rebounds), 6-8 Richard Hendrix (14.5 points, 8.6 rebounds), and 6-10 Jermareo Davidson (15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds). Davidson is coming off a career-best 31-point outing at LSU.

South Carolina is led by 6-4 senior guard Tré Kelley, who averages 16.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried didn't surprise anyone when he expressed admiration for the play of the Gamecocks. Gottfried said, "We're feeling a little bit better about ourselves, obviously, after winning at LSU but we know South Carolina is also playing very well. Their win at Mississippi State was very impressive to us, and I know Dave (South Carolina Coach Dave Odom) always has his teams ready to play and they're always so well coached, so we've got to get turned around real quickly—like you do in this conference—and get ready to go again."

In answer to a question, Gottfried said his team is motivated by still being in the SEC Western Division race. He said, "No question. We were like the ‘Bad News Bears' but so was everybody else, so we can stay alive if we just hang in there. There's a lot of basketball left to be played and a lot of things can happen with a lot of different teams. And it's not how you start, it's how you finish. We know that. So we've just got to stay the course.

"The one thing all of us coaches know is there is so much balance in this league. I think Florida is separating themselves, and outside of that I think it's such a balanced conference that it's hard to predict what's going to happen each night teams play."

He said Alabama's goal would continue to be the NCAA Tournament. Gottfried said, "It's hard but that's your goal. In our situation, having gone to five straight NCAA tournaments, we've found a way in a league that's as good as the SEC. I think there are only three teams that have done that. But it's difficult because everybody's good; everybody's doing a very good job with their programs, and that makes it hard."

Other SEC games this weekend are Kentucky at Arkansas, Ole Miss at Auburn, Tennessee at Florida, LSU at Mississippi State, and Georgia at Vanderbilt.

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