It was apparent the Rebels know the Alabama game is huge. They know they didn't play up to expectations at South Carolina. They head to Tuscaloosa with winning on their minds.
"We've got two games left," said a usually loose and candid senior guard Clarence Sanders who was direct and to the point in talking about the close of the regular season. "We've got to focus and work and win them. That's it."
Sanders said it isn't about respect now as much as it is about wins.
"We're at the point now that if we haven't gotten respect, it doesn't look like we're going to get it," said Sanders of the 18-10 Rebels who are 7-7 and tied for first place in the SEC West with Mississippi State. "We're not worried about respect. We want to win these two games and make it to the (NCAA) tournament. We've been the underdogs ever since we've been here. So we'll just go out and try to get it done."
Fellow senior guard Bam Doyne says the Rebels are trying not to get caught up in the hype that goes along with a run to the finish line for a title.
"Just being in the race is something new for us," Doyne said. "Everybody knows going on the road is tough. It was a conference game we needed to win (last Saturday at South Carolina). Now we move to another conference game we need to win."
Doyne and his teammates beat Alabama 71-61 last year in Tuscaloosa in the SEC season opener for their only road win in the league. He hopes there is some carryover, but that was a long time ago.
"The fact that we won last year there really means nothing this year," Doyne said. "We know we're capable of going in there and winning, and we'll do our best to do that."
The Rebels have already gotten the best of Alabama once this season. On Feb. 10, the Crimson Tide fell to Ole Miss 75-69 in Oxford.
Tide head coach Mark Gottfried said his team has to be ready for a good Ole Miss team that they've already faced once.
"It's a big game," he said as his team enters the contest 19-9 overall and 6-8 in the SEC, tied with Auburn for third place in the West. "Obviously we've got to bounce back from a difficult loss (to Auburn at home 86-77 last Saturday). We have to make sure we're ready physically as well as mentally. Ole Miss is a good team, and they beat us once earlier this season, so we have a lot of respect for them."
The Crimson Tide may be without its point guard Ronald Steele. The 6-foot-3, junior from John Carroll High School in Birmingham has battled knee and ankle injuries all season. Steele scored seven points with five assists in 39 minutes in the Ole Miss-Alabama game in Oxford. He's averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 assists.
After rising to as high as No. 4 in the national rankings this year, Alabama dropped out of the polls after the loss to Auburn on Saturday. The Crimson Tide has lost two straight games and four of its last five.
Alabama is led by the frontcourt tandem of sophomore Richard Hendrix and senior Jermareo Davidson, each averaging over 14 points and 8 rebounds. Hendrix is the SEC leader in field goal percentage (60.7), while Davidson is third in the conference in blocked shots (2.46 bpg). Sophomore Alonzo Gee is scoring 12.5 points per game, while junior transfer Mykal Riley is adding 12.4.
Doyne says whoever lines up for Alabama, he agrees with Sanders that the Rebels are likely in a must-win situation if they want to reach their goals.
"Especially for the NCAA Tournament hopes, we definitely need to win this game," he said. "These next two games are so important (including a game in Oxford with Auburn Saturday at 1 p.m.). We're trying to get there. We need to win."
Rebel players focused on Crimson Tide
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