Tide too strong for Razorbacks

While much of the attention by some 12,000 fans was focused on Alabama freshman forward Kennedy Winston, the attention of the Crimson Tide basketball team was on defense and fourth-ranked Bama opened Southeastern Conference play with a 61-51 win over Arkansas in Coleman Coliseum Wednesday night.

"They all count the same," said Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried, commenting on his team's less than stellar performance offensively. "Wins are hard to come by in this league."

The win pushed Alabama's overall record to 11-1, 1-0 in the SEC. Arkansas is 0-1 in conference and 5-7 overall. "This is a new season," Tide point guard Mo Williams said afterwards. "It's the SEC."

Kennedy Winston, the top prep player in Alabama last year and expected to be one of the nation's top freshmen performers, missed the first 11 games of the season while the NCAA investigated benefits he received as an AAU player before entering college. He was cleared to play this week.

Although Winston had a couple of nice offensive moves, he finished with only one-of-three shooting from the field and four-of-six free throw shooting for six points. He had two rebounds and two assists and a steal, but also had two turnovers in his 12 minutes of play.

Gottfried was happy to have Winston finally see game action. "I was glad to get him (Winston) in there," Gottfried said. "It's always good when you get in the game and the ball goes through the net. He just needs time, time to play."

Alabama's shooting woes continued as Bama was able to connect on only 19 of 50 field goal attempts, 38 per cent. Bama was eight of 20 on three-point tries with Antoine Pettway, who came off the bench to lead the Tide in scoring with 14 points, hitting four of seven trey tries.

"Antoine has really been working hard," Gottfried said. "He stays after practice a lot of days. He made some big shots. I think there was a stretch the last four or five games he hasn't shot a great percentage, but those guys are confident players. I don't want guys out there second guessing themselves. You have got to step up and make big shots, Antoine did tonight."

But the Tide defense continues to be very good. Arkansas made only 17 of 48 shots, 35.4 per cent, and only five of 17 three-pointers, 29.4 per cent. "I thought that once again our defense was the difference in the game," Gottfried said. "That was what lifted us over the hump tonight. We're still trying to find ourselves offensively, but I do like our defense."

The Razorbacks were led by Kendrick Davis who scored a team high 13 points. Also contributing for the Hogs were Dionisio Gomez and Jonathon Modica who scored 10 points apiece. The Razorbacks were atrocious from the free throw line, making only 12 of 22 (54.5 per cent), while Alabama was good on 15 of 20 foul shots, 75 per cent. Alabama had 14 turnovers, but forced 17 Arkansas miscues.

Erwin Dudley was the only Bama player other than Pettway to make it into double figures. Dudley had 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Alabama barely won the rebound battle, 37-35. "I'd give us a C-," was Dudley's assessment of his team's performance. "We played pretty good. Arkansas played zone defense against me and packed it in pretty good."

Arkansas gave the home crowd some nervous moments, particularly in the first half when the Razorbacks went from a five-point deficit (11-6) to a five-point lead (16-11). A Pettway three-pointer with 6:19 to play in the first half gave Alabama the lead at 18-17 and the Razorbacks never led again. The Tide had a 25-17 halftime lead. Bama's biggest lead was 14 points midway through the second half.

Razorback Head Coach Stan Heath liked his team's effort. "Unfortunately Alabama's got a lot of talent for us to pull off the upset," he said. "They would need to be off and us play our best game of the year (to win)."

The win avenged Alabama's season ending loss to Kent State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas head coach Stan Heath was the head coach for Kent State during the 2001-2002 season.

Kenny Walker continues in his slump. The senior center was good on only two of nine field goal attempts and finished with only six points and three rebounds. But he did have three assists and three blocked shots, two of them spectacular swats.

Alabama returns to action Saturday at Vanderbilt. The time of the game has been moved to 8 p.m. CST because of a pro football game in Nashville.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris Woodfin of Alabama's Department of Media Relations contributed to this report.

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