Tide Tries to Keep Hope Alive in Starkville

The University of Alabama men's basketball team (20-9, 7-8 SEC) travels to Starkville, Miss. Sunday to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (16-12, 7-8 SEC) in the teams' final Southeastern Conference game of the 2006-2007 regular season.

This will mark the third consecutive year Alabama has had to travel to Starkville to close out the SEC regular season and the fifth time since 2000 that Alabama and Mississippi State have faced one another in the final regular season game.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. CST and can be seen on Lincoln Financial Sports with Dave Baker and Joe Dean calling the action. Fans can also catch the game on the radio with the Crimson Tide Sports Network's broadcast with Chris Stewart, Tom Roberts and Bryan Passink handling the broadcast duties. In addition to CTSN's affiliates, the game can be heard on SIRIUS 119.

Alabama holds a share of the SEC Western Division lead with Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn. The Tide split the series with Ole Miss and lost both games against Auburn. The top two seeds in both divisions will earn a first round bye in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta, which begins March 8.

"We've got a lot of respect for them," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried of the Bulldogs. "At times this season they have played as well as anybody in the conference. They are very athletic and very good and Rick (Stansbury) has done a great job. Our guys are feeling a little bit better since we won a game (on Wednesday night against Ole Miss). We're looking forward to this weekend.

The game is the second of two regular season meetings between the two. Alabama won the first in Tuscaloosa on February 7, compliments of Ronald Steele who drove the length of the court and sank a layup with seven seconds remaining to lift Alabama to an 80-79 win. Alabama was trailing the game by five points with 1:09 remaining when Mykal Riley drained a 3-point shot to cut the Bulldogs' lead to two points only to have MSU's Chris Rhodes put the Bulldogs back up by three when he made the first of two free throw attempts with 38 seconds. Riley repeated his heroics with another 3-pointer to tie the game at 78-78 with 18 seconds remaining. Following the inbounds, Alabama's Brandon Hollinger fouled Ben Hansbrough with 10 seconds left but Hansbrough made only one of those shots, putting MSU's lead at 79-78 and opening the door for Steele's play that would lift Alabama to the win.

"What stands out in my memory most about the game when we played them here (in Tuscaloosa) is that they had a good point guard. We've got to contain the point guard and that's not going to be easy because, like I said, he's good," said Riley who knows SEC tournament seeding as well as Alabama's postseason hopes will factor into the outcome of Sunday's game. "Every game we play is important, and this is another important game for us. We want to end the regular season with a win. We had a good win against Ole Miss on Wednesday, and I think we're still in good contention to make the (NCAA) tournament. We want to close it out with a bang, a win, and we are going to work hard, play hard and do what we can to make that happen."

Four Alabama players, including Riley, are among the SEC's top scorers. The Tide is led by sophomore forward Richard Hendrix who is averaging 14.8 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game. Hendrix also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at .606%. Senior Jermareo Davidson is averaging 14.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Hendrix and Davidson are ranked 11th and 13th in the SEC in scoring, respectively. Alabama also has two other players ranked in the top 25 in the SEC in scoring. Alonzo Gee is 23rd and Mykal Riley are tied at 23rd in the league in scoring with 12.4 ppg.

The Bulldogs are led by sophomore guard Jamont Gordon, who is averaging 16 ppg and 7.3 rpg. He also leads the team with 4.8 assists per game.

Mississippi State is Bama's oldest opponent in basketball, and was the first college team Alabama ever played. This will be the 177th meeting between the two teams. Alabama leads the series 110-66.

Next up for the Tide is the annual SEC Tournament March 8-11. This year's tournament will be held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Opponent and game date and time have not yet been determined.

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