On Tuesday night Coach Mark Gottfried's Alabama men's basketball team plays game two of its 2007-08 schedule. The Crimson Tide, 1-0, plays at Mercer, 1-0, at 6:30 p.m. CT/7:30 p.m. ET at a sold out University Center in Macon, Ga. The game will not be televised. Fans can listen to it on the radio on the Crimson Tide Sports Network or by linking on to listen to CTSN's broadcast through Alabama's official website, www.rolltide.com
"We're going to play a veteran team that has a veteran backcourt," said Gottfried of the Bears who are hosting the Tide for the first time. The Tide coach noted that Mercer has "four starters returning, and you're good enough to go on the road and beat an 18th-ranked team in the country by 15 and be up by 17 at the half? I think that makes believers out of everybody. When we scheduled this game, I knew it would be a very difficult game but that's the kind of games we're going to play. We obviously know we're going to have a tough game and that's good."
Both teams come into the game after opening their seasons this past weekend with wins. Alabama opened at home against Troy and won 84-72, led by 61 team rebounds, including a 23 rebounds performance by junior power forward Richard Hendrix who coupled that with 22 points. It was the most single game rebounds any Tide player has accumulated since Reggie King did it in a 1976 game.
Hendrix was named SEC Player of the Week for his performance.
Mercer comes into the game after traveling to USC on Saturday and returning to Macon with its 15-point win.
"They are coming off a big-time win on the road, so they'll be excited and they are going to be ready to play," said Hendrix." Anytime you have your home opener, which is what this game will be for Mercer, you want to start off your season right in front of the home fans, so that adds even more incentive. We have to go in and do what they did this past weekend and get it done on the road. We'll be prepared, hopefully."
It will be the sixth time Alabama and Mercer have played one another in men's basketball, though it is the first time Mercer has hosted. Alabama leads the series 4-1 in a series that dates to the first meeting in 1923 in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament game. Mercer won that one 28-23 to end Alabama's season at 20-5. The other four games have all taken place in Tuscaloosa. Gottfried was a player in one of those series games, a 1986 game his junior season at Alabama where he scored six points and had six assists to help Alabama win 92-49. The last meeting was on December 27, 2003. Alabama won 101-44.
Mercer's 2007-08 team is predicted to make an impact in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Sophomore guard James Florence, who scored 30 points on USC, is a pre-season all-conference selection.
"We wanted to go on the road and get challenged on the road, and that's been done by design. Now we've got to go play well," said Gottfried.
The game will bring Tide freshman guard Senario Hillman within 30 minutes of his hometown, Irwinton, Ga. Hillman says he's been looking forward to not only the competition Mercer will give him and his Tide teammates but his trip that will bring him back to play close to home.
"Irwinton from Macon is about 30 miles," said Hillman. "I'm excited to go so close to home and play in front of my family and friends and our fans. I'm looking forward to having my teammates go down there and play and be in that area. They say the game is already sold out, so there's going to be a lot of people there. It's going to be my first road game as a freshman, so I think it helps a little bit that my first road game will be at a place where I will have a lot of family and friends there."
But he and Hendrix and the Alabama team know that, while they wouldn't be playing basketball if it wasn't fun, this game is yet another large challenge that lies before them this season.
"I think whether it's the first game or the last game, there are always ways you can improve," said Hendrix of Friday night's game against Troy. "There are some mistakes we made, and we just have to correct those mistakes and move on. We have to work on turnovers. We turned the ball over too much. And we have to concentrate on getting into playing our style of ball and running our offense and focusing on technique and little things like that to make it better."
And his coach certainly agrees that each game is a step and the important thing is making progress with each step.