SEC Tournament Is Sports Do-Over

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tournament play, the ultimate do-over moment in the sporting world, presents either a nice warm-up act for an NCAA-bound team or a redemption opportunity for a struggling program trying to make amends for the past season's stumbles and extending the season.

Alabama's first round Southeastern Conference Tournament game at 6:30 p.m. CDT Thursday against the Eastern Division fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores falls in to the latter category. Fresh off a thrilling last second 70-67 win over eastern division co-champ Tennessee, the Crimson Tide (17-13, 7-9) looks to continue its good fortune on a neutral court at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. The winner of the SEC Tournament gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Barring a miracle four consecutive wins in Tampa, Alabama is prepared to accept an N.I.T invitation if it is offered.

Alabama and Vanderbilt met in regular season play and the Commodores' inside-out duo of A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal had 20 points each to lead Vandy to a 79-74 win. Alabama had led 43-36 at halftime.

Such a defeat at Memorial Gym in Nashville is nothing new for Bama. The Tide's losing streak reached double digits at 10 dating back to 1991. Louisiana's Superdome in New Orleans, site of the most recent first sound tournament match-up of Alabama and Vanderbilt, saw Alabama fall short in an 82-69 loss in 2003 to the ‘Dores. Western Division four seed Alabama seeks to even the tournament record as Vandy has the 4-3 edge.

Vanderbilt finished regular season play with seven wins in the last 10 games. Alabama won four of its final five games in regular season play.

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said, "I think that a lot of what's made us better is that our team needed time to figure itself out. We would have liked to have figured it out a month before we did, maybe, but we didn't. I think we've sort of figured each other out. I think that our younger guys, which is most of our team, are playing better. They're more comfortable with what we're trying to do. And, you know, I think A.J. talked about being loose and more aggressive on offense. I think we've hit a little bit of a stride offensively which has made us better. I think that's given our defense some energy."

Vanderbilt's scoring offense (69.6 points per game) is 11th in the 12-team SEC.

Stallings said, "I think our defense at times this year has been pretty good. But your defense loses energy when you go through major scoring droughts, which we've done for a lot of the season. So hopefully, our offense will be consistent this weekend, and it will continue to give our defense energy,"

The Commodores rank fourth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 70.8 points per game.

Conventional wisdom historically has the Commodores scaring the opponent with their three-point shooting, but surprisingly the roles are reversed. Alabama is second in the league in long range accuracy (37.2 per cent on three-point shots). That and Bama athleticism worry Stallings, he said.

"They are shooting the ball so much better from the perimeter," he observed. "When they make perimeter three-point jump shots, it's because they're very big, they're very athletic."

Alabama comes into the tournament with the enthusiasm of having won four of its last five games, including winning road games at Ole Miss and Tennessee. Bama had not won an SEC road game since January, 2007, before those victories.

Another help to Alabama morale has been a change in philosophy under Interim Coach Philip Pearson.

"I felt like we've got ten scholarship players and felt like we could increase the morale on our team by giving everybody a chance to play," said Pearson. "Certainly how much you played after that or whether you're going to play in the next game was going to be based on how you performed. I wanted to have our guys feel like that everybody had a chance to play. I felt that would increase the intensity of our practices and the camaraderie on our team. Whether or not that's been a big help I'm not for sure. I think it's helped to some degree."

Defending from the inside out along with being cognizant of penetration by their guards are priorities according to Pearson. "First of all we've got to defend Ogilvy on the inside. He's a great player who's very skilled and can do a lot of things. I like Beal and Tinsley at the guards for Vanderbilt. We'll have to be sure we are defending both of those players. And they've got some complimentary guys if your not careful who can jump up on a given night and get 10, 12, 14 points and be the difference in the game."

Senior Alonzo Gee, a Sunshine State native, expects about 20 people cheering him on Thursday evening as he attempts to prolong his career. "Stop penetration and try to contain Ogilvy," he said, echoing the coach's plan. "They have a couple of wing players who are pretty good, too. We'll look to out-rebound them and run the floor."

Freshman All-SEC JaMychal Green will be one of Alabama's big men contending with the inside game of Ogilvy. Green said, "He can shoot it (he had two treys against Alabama last time) or he can bang in the post. I feel if we stop him we have a chance to win." "We can beat these guys. We were up seven at halftime up there," said reserve Demetrius Jemison, who has benefited in playing time from the mid-season coaching change. "We were so close and we kind of lost it at the end. They played real well towards the end."

Anthony Brock, the hero of Bama's win over Tennessee with his buzzer-beater three-pointer, had his first big scoring game in the first contest against Vanderbilt when he scored 15 points.

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