Tide finds a way

Playing with an eye toward impressing the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, Alabama needed to win--hopefully by a significant margin--and look good doing it. The Tide accomplished all three goals on Sunday, pulling away at the end to trounce Ole Miss, 86-63.

With only two conference games remaining before the SEC Tournament, Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried still hopes to reach the .500 mark in league play. "I like the way we're playing now," Gottfried said afterwards. "I like our rhythm and the feel we have for the game. We just need to continue playing like this and find a way to do what we want to do."

The win pushed Alabama to 16-9 overall, 6-8 in the SEC. Ole Miss drops below the .500 mark to 12-13, 3-11 in conference play. The Rebels have lost nine straight games. The Tide has now won three of its last five. Alabama will play its final home game next Wednesday, as South Carolina visits Coleman Coliseum for a 7 pm game (CST). The Tide's final regular-season contest will be at LSU on March 8th.

Bama's 23-point margin of victory made the Rebels look worse than they were. For most of the second half the Tide lead hovered around the 10-point mark. Alabama led 67-58 with 5:05 remaining, before blowing the game open with a 19-5 run to finish the day. "You've got to give Alabama credit," said Rebel Head Coach Rod Barnes. "They shot the ball well from the perimeter all day. We're probably a little tired and frustrated right now. That run was crucial."

Dudley had 18 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots, one steal and one assist. (Associated Press)

The Tide generally shot the ball well, especially in the second half. Alabama shot 58.5 percent for the game, Ole Miss only 45.3. Four Tide players reached the double-figure mark in scoring. "We're finding ourselves," Gottfried said. "We're playing well right now. The team is becoming confident with what we're trying to do. It's been a difficult thing to add in a player to the starting lineup this late in the year, but Kennedy Winston got 20 points today. We all can see the difference he can make for us offensively.

"Hopefully our (improved play) hasn't come too late."

Winston's 20 points led Alabama and tied the Rebels' Justin Reed for game honors. "I'm feeling real confident right now," Winston said. "My teammates gave me the ball with an opportunity to score. Everybody did their part today. When we execute our offense, everybody gets open shots."

Shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range, Antoine Pettway scored 19 for Bama. "The ball felt good on my release," Pettway said. "Coach (Gottfried) was telling us all week to be ready to shoot quickly after you got the pass. We worked in practice on shooting before the defense had a chance to get there. Our inside game was working, which opened things up outside."

Erwin Dudley managed yet another double-double, scoring 18 points and hauling in ten rebounds. "I'm just trying to assert myself," Dudley said. "Posting up and trying to be a threat around the basket."

Point guard Mo Williams scored 16 points and had seven assists. Dudley was the game's leading rebounder. Winston, Kenny Walker and Williams contributed five rebounds apiece.

The game went back and forth for the first eight minutes, with the lead changing or tied six times. Clinging to a two-point lead at the 7:25 mark, over the next five and a half minutes Bama outscored the Rebels 13-0. Sloppy play by the Tide the next few minutes got Ole Miss to within nine points at halftime.

The Tide won the rebounding battle, 30-25. Alabama had five blocked shots, Ole Miss none. Bama also led in assists, 18-14, and steals, 6-4. The Tide's 86 points represents its highest total this year in league play.

4-of-6 from the three-point line and 6-of-8 overall, Antoine Pettway scored 19 points. The junior guard also had three assists and two steals. (photo courtesy of Kent Gidley and the UofA)

Now playing its best offensive basketball of the year, Alabama is intent on getting an NCAA bid and making a run in the tournament. "We're going to have to trust the committee," Gottfried said. "I've watched a lot of basketball the last few days, and it's amazing how everybody claims to know what the committee is thinking. It's amazing how much speculation there is about ‘absolutes.' ‘These guys are absolutely in; those guys are absolutely out.'

"But we found out two years ago that those 8-10 guys on the committee are the only ones that know."

During pre-game warm-ups the Tide players wore T-shirts with the slogan "Find a way."

"Every time we play Ole Miss we know it's going to be a battle," Dudley said. "I had the mindset that we have a goal, and we're trying to achieve that goal. Right now we're trying to get those next few wins and get into the tournament."

"We've got to do everything we can to control our destiny," Gottfried explained. "Whether it's by playing defense, or somebody guarding somebody---we've just got to find a way."

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