Alabama comes in on a hot streak with eight straight victories, including a pair of conference wins vs. LSU (76-74) and Vanderbilt (92-79) at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
The Tigers won the last meeting 72-69 in overtime and have taken five of the last seven contests between the rivals. Bama is 14-2 overall and ranked 14th and 15th in the major polls. The Tigers are 8-5 and struggling with starting center Kyle Davis out after having elbow surgery. He is expected to be sidelined approximately three more weeks, but there is a chance he could come back sooner. (NBA player Scottie Pippen had an identical surgery with the same doctors at HealthSouth and was out for just 2 1/2 weeks.)
The Tigers blew a 12-point lead vs. Arkansas and led by 20 points early in the first half at Ole Miss before losing. When asked how damaging that is to the confidence and his team's overall mental state, Cliff Ellis said, "You have got to learn and you have got to play them one at a time. If it doesn't go the way you need it to go, you have got to move and learn from it."
Ellis said that a key to the Tigers getting over the hump in the SEC is better offensive play by the reserves. "I think we have got to focus in on getting our bench keeping us going a little bit more," he says. "We have gotten off to great starts, but we haven't gone in and made that surge off the bench or kept that surge from coming the way we need to. I think it is impossible for guys to play 40 minutes."
On the plus side, Ellis noted that he likes his group's effort. "Our team needs to focus on one game at a time. We are playing hard. There is no letup with this team. We just have to continue to go out and do battle."
The Tide features four starters scoring in double figures led by 6-8 junior forward Rod Grizzard, who averages 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Steady 6-8, 260 junior forward Erwin Dudley is averaging 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. The starting center, 6-9, 230 Kenny Walker, is averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.
At guard, 6-2 junior Terrance Mead is averaging 12.5 points and 1.7 assists. Maurice Williams, a 6-1, 185 freshman, is averaging 9.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
Ellis said he is hoping for continued strong play from freshman Brandon Robinson, a high-leaping, 6-8, 215-pound forward. "I think he is an inexperienced Chris Porter with a better shot," Ellis said. "That shows you what my anticipation of him is."
Another newcomer, guard Derrick Bird, leads the Tigers in scoring at 12.7 points per game. Marquis Daniels is averaging 11.8 points and 5.2 assists in his new role as a point guard.
Senior Mack McGadney, who is unable to play a lot of minutes because of the after-effects of knee surgery, is scheduled to start at center with Davis out. He is averaging 5.5 points and 2.3 rebounds. Adam Harrington is averaging 9.8 points per game to round out the three-guard starting lineup.
The game is a sellout and it will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South.
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