Ranked teams clash Saturday

Last week's close loss to Utah now behind them, Head Coach Mark Gottfried and his Crimson Tide will have at least one more chance this year to take the court as the No. 1 team. <br><br>But things won't get any easier for Bama, as 19th-ranked Xavier visits Tuscaloosa in the Tide's final game before the start of conference play.

Tip-off for Saturday's contest at Coleman Coliseum is scheduled for 4 pm, with Fox Sports South televising the game.

Xavier comes into Tuscaloosa with a 9-2 overall record, having won its last four straight. The losses were to Stanford (at Stanford) 63-62 on November 20 and to No. 8 AP/No. 10 ESPN/USA Today Mississippi State 71-61 in New York on December 14. Its wins include, in order, Saint Peter's (87-48), Florida A&M (93-64), Purdue (74-59), Cincinnati (50-44), Miami of Ohio (68-58), Ball State (87-58), Siena (96-88), Eastern Kentucky (84-60) and Creighton (75-73).

Led by senior forward David West, the Musketeers are the classic "quality out-of-conference opponent." "West is a very good player," Gottfried said. "When you watch Xavier's tapes it's clear why he is regarded as highly as he is. He can score a lot of different ways."

Sophomore guard Earnest Shelton was a bright spot in the loss to Utah, scoring 14 points and hitting 2-of-5 three-point attempts. (GettyImages)

Basketball fans will get a look at two of the men who are John R. Wooden and Naismith National Player of the Year candidates on Saturday. The Crimson Tide's roster includes senior power forward Erwin Dudley and the Musketeers' roster features senior forward David West.

Averaging 19.7 points per game, West (6-9, 240) and guard Romain Sato (6-5, 205) provide the majority of Xavier's offense. Sato has been named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Week twice so far this season for his efforts in wins at Siena and over Eastern Kentucky.

Along with Alabama's Erwin Dudley, West was selected to the Associated Press pre-season All-America team. "We're going to have to try and guard West by committee," Gottfried said. "Erwin and Kenny will take turns with him, and our perimeter people have got to try and find ways to help when they can."

For his part, Dudley has played very well in most games this year. But in Bama's only loss at Utah, last season's SEC Player of the Year was held to just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. "I think Erwin has played okay," Gottfried said. "I wouldn't say he's had a great start. I think Erwin needs to step his play up. We've talked about it, he and I both. I don't have any doubt that he'll be there when our team needs him the most. But I think that he can play better."

Also a candidate for national Player of the Year honors, West has started in all 105 games of his Xavier career. His 1,705 career points rank him 8th at Xavier all-time. And West has led the Atlantic 10 in rebounding the last three seasons. "He's kind of unusual in that he's a post player that will rebound, but he'll dribble the ball up the floor himself," Gottfried noted. "At that point he becomes really hard to guard. We have to have an awareness of where he is and find people to help."

Saturday's meeting between the Tide and the Musketeers marks only the third time ever these two teams have played one another in men's basketball. The last meeting took place in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Alabama won that game 97-80. Alabama went to the NCAA Sweet 16 that year, defeating Xavier, then Illinois before falling to Kentucky in the Atlanta regional.

Coming off a solid 75-73 win over 15th-ranked Creighton, Xavier will enter Saturday's game short-handed. Starting guard Lionel Chalmers (13.8 ppg, 5.1 apg) is out for several weeks with a broken foot. "Obviously this is a tough break for our team," said Xavier head coach Thad Matta. "Lionel has been our floor general. Now other guys need to step up and help fill the void. That's what winning teams must do, pull together and work through the challenges."

Bama's Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker will face a stern defensive test Saturday.

Gottfried agreed, "Anytime you have an injury to a key player it's going to affect you. But they had players step up for them in the last game. They're got some good athletes."

Xavier marks the second team from the Atlantic 10 Conference Alabama will have played this season. Alabama played host to St. Bonaventure on December 7th and won that home game 77-68.

Entering this game ranked No. 19, Xavier is the second ranked team the Tide has faced this season. The only other ranked team Alabama has played so far is Oklahoma who was No. 3 when the Tide defeated the Sooners 68-62 in Alabama's season opener on November 14. Oklahoma is now No. 10 AP/No. 11 ESPN/USA Today.

Current Tide head coach Mark Gottfried was a junior starting guard on the 1986 squad that played Xavier. During Thursday's teleconference Gottfried joked that he had "40 points and 17 assists." Playing on a team that included future pros Buck Johnson, Derrick McKey, Jim Farmer and Michael Ansley, Gottfried actually scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting that day versus Xavier, including two assists and one steal.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Becky Hopf, of Alabama's Media Relations Department, contributed to this report.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a Crimson Ticket story, available only to BamaMag.com subscribers. But this week all website content, including the entire TheInsiders.com network, is free of charge.

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