Tide Basketball Goes To State

Lucky or good? Alabama's men's basketball team gives one pause. The Crimson Tide certainly has not been good, or at least not good enough. And for the most part it hasn't been lucky, either, lest one or two or even three of those one-point losses might have gone for Bama.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant looked ahead to Wednesday's Crimson Tide game at Mississippi State and said, "We were fortunate to win the game the last time we played them here at home." Wednesday's game tips off at 8 p.m. CST and will be on the Bulldogs' home court in Starkville. The game will be regionally telecast by CSS.

Alabama's 62-57 win over a Mississippi State team that was ranked 23rd in the nation on January 23 wasn't so much luck as it was a demonstration of toughness...a trait that mostly has been lacking in this year's Bama squad. Bama had chances to fold, but made clutch free throws down the stretch and had a very good defensive game against the Bulldogs.

This will be Alabama's fourth (and final) road game in February. The Tide is winless on the road this month and has a road losing streak of five, including last weekend's disaster at Georgia when Bama blew a 13-point second half lead. (That pales in comparision to Alabama's first road loss of the month, when the Tide lost a 23-point second half lead at Ole Miss. On Saturday, Mississippi will return the trip to Alabama.)

Alabama has fallen to 14-12 overall and 4-8 in Southeastern Conference play with four league games remaining. Mississippi State is tied with Arkansas for the SEC Western Division lead with a 7-5 conference mark. The Bulldogs are 19-8 overall. Alabama's last win was over Arkansas, which is tied with State for the division lead.

Mississippi State is coming off a 60-59 win over LSU in Baton Rouge. LSU, last year's SEC champion, has not won a conference game this year. The Bulldogs' last home game was an overtime loss to Kentucky, a much discussed game because of the contribution of officiating to the Wildcats' win. That probably doesn't bode well for Alabama being the next team into Starkville. It is an understatement to say Bama hasn't gotten any favors from SEC officials in Grant's first season as head coach.

Alabama's usually good defense collapsed at Georgia in he Tide's last game with Georgia losing 76-70. The 76 points was the most Alabama has surrendered this year in conference play.

Grant said the difficulty in playing Mississippi State is the balance the Bulldogs have with the likes of Ravern Johnson (13.8 points per game) Dee Bost (12.2 ppg) and Barry Stewart (11.3 ppg) on the perimeter and Jarvis Varnado (13.2 points, 10.9 rebounds per game) inside. "It makes it difficult," Grant said, "but what we tried to do last game and what we'll have to do this game is try to really limit his opportunities on the interior, try to provide as much help as we can for our front court and at the same time be able to extend our defense and defend the three-point line."

Whatever Alabama does, Grant has to hope the Crimson Tide can do it for 40 minutes.

Grant said his team has had "a recurring theme" of not being able to finish games and said it was disappointing the team has not done what it has to do to win close games.

"It's almost like we become two different teams from the first 30 minutes of the game to the last 10 minutes of the game," the Tide coach said. "If we have any type of a lead there is a mentality of playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win, like we have something to protect and we're just going to hold on to it and hope the clock runs out."

A recent Grant strategy has been to have the Crimson Tide's leading scorer sit on the bench for the first few minutes of the game. Senior guard Mikhail Torrance (6-5) is getting plenty of playing time despite not starting and he leads Bama in scoring at 15 points per game. JaMychal Green (6-9 sophomore forward) averages 14.9 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds per game.

In addition to Green, Alabama is expected to start 5-9 senior guard Anthony Brock (6.1 ppg), 6-6 freshman forward Tony Mitchell (9.1 ppg), 6-1 junior guard Senario Hillman (7.9 ppg), and 6-8 junior foward Chris Hines (3.4 ppg).

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