Tide Basketball Has Hard Assignment

Alabama's men's basketball team will be shooting in Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville tonight. Even for a good team, that's like shooting hoops in a carnival house of mirrors. So we have Alabama, by far the worst three-point shooting team in the Southeastern Conference and a team that hasn't won an SEC road game in two years, seemingly on a bad trip.

What does Philip Pearson, Alabama's interim head coach, think about the challenge? He's "looking forward" to the opportunity.

Alabama and Vanderbilt both have 13-8 overall records. The Crimson Tide is 3-4 in SEC games, the Commodores of Coach Kevin Stallings 3-5.

Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CST with television coverage on ESPN2.

Both teams are coming off wins. Alabama eked out a 75-70 home win over SEC East cellar-dweller Georgia, while Vandy was getting an impressive road win at Auburn.

Things look tough for Bama from the arc or the paint. On the outside, Alabama has been a terrible three-point shooting team, worst in the SEC by far. The Tide has hit 30.1 per cent. Additionally, Bama has not been a good defensive team against the trey, and Vandy shoots well from outside. In the Commodores' win over Auburn Jermaine Beale hit 7-8 from behind the arc. Alabama had better success from outside against Georgia, Alonzo Gee hitting all three of his tries and Senario Hillman (a 22 per cent three-point shooter on the year) was good on 3-4.

Alabama is still working to get over the loss of Ronald Steele, who left the team a week or so before the Tide lost Mark Gottfried as head coach. Bama is last in the SEC in assists.

There is a challenge inside. The Commodores feature 6-11, 250-pound A.J. Ogilvy, who averages 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. One of the highlights of the season for Alabama was the play of the Tide defensively against Kentucky's outstanding big man, Pat Patterson. In that game Bama used 6-9, 240-pount Justin Knox and also gave help from freshman star JaMychal Green (6-9, 220).

Pearson said that Beale outside and Ogilvy inside "are two big concerns for us."

Pearson's record in just over a week as Alabama's coach is 1-1 and it's 0-1 on the road, so he is not responsible for Bama's bleak road performance over the past two years. He was asked about that winless streak in SEC play.

Pearson said, "I don't know if there is necessarily a common thread. Not be so blunt or so direct, but when you go on the road you have to do two or three things, and one is you have to control the tempo of the game. You do that with your shot selection, being sure that you're getting good shots for that particular player, and then on the other end, again very obviously, you have to be willing to get out and defend somebody whether it's in man or zone. Most of the times when you get on the road and you end up not getting the job done then you've probably failed in one of those areas. Looking back to the Arkansas game for example, I think certainly there in the first half there were times where we didn't defend them as well as we needed to and that had a direct result on the outcome of the game. Going back to the Kentucky game, which was a home game, but down the stretch we were right there in the game, it's a 45-45 game, and we didn't offensively execute as well as we needed to in order to give ourselves a chance to win the game. Those are two areas of focus, and certainly on the road those become even more important."

Gee leads the Tide in scoring (14.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.3), but in recent games Green has become much more a key for Bama. For the year he is averaging 10.1 points and 7.0 rebounds, but in the last three games has averaged 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Alabama was able to work out in Memorial Gymnasium Wednesday and was to go through its walk-through in the gym today.

Although Alabama leads the all-time series against the Commodores, 65-61, Vandy has won five of the last seven games. Vanderbilt has won nine straight in Memorial Gymnasium against Alabama and holds an all-time 31-10 margin against the Tide there.

Following the game at Vanderbilt, Bama continues on the road. Alabama will go to Baton Rouge Sunday to play LSU. The Tide defeated the Tigers, 65-59, in Tuscaloosa in the opening SEC game of the year on January 11.

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