Turning the Tide

Tennessee's basketball team hopes to settle a score against Alabama today in Tuscaloosa (4 p.m. tip-off at Coleman Coliseum).

No team has dominated the Vols in recent years like the Crimson Tide. And no one knows this better than senior point guard C.J. Watson, who is 0-4 against Bama with the losses coming by an average of 17.8 points.

Watson came closest to beating the Tide on his first try. The 2003 Vols were 15-7 and apparently headed for an NCAA Tournament bid in Buzz Peterson's second year at coach. Bama killed that dream by beating Tennessee 76-71 in Knoxville.

The Tide toyed with Tennessee in 2004, winning 83-70 in Tuscaloosa, then annihilating the Vols 84-49 in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.

The Vols had the home-court advantage in last year's meeting but it didn't matter. The Tide waltzed out of Thompson-Boling Arena with a 72-54 victory, its sixth consecutive win in the series.

So, why has Alabama been such a tough match-up for Tennessee?

"They're a long team," Watson said. "They always play zone, and we struggled against a zone sometimes."

The Tide is even longer than usual this season. Bama starts an imposing frontline of 6-10 Jermareo Davidson, 6-9 Evan Brock and 6-8 Richard Hendrix. And, as Watson noted, the Tide's long-armed zone defense has given UT fits in past seasons.

Senior forward Andre Patterson, a transfer from UCLA, has faced the Tide just one time. But he remembers how dominant Bama was last year in Knoxville.

"They manhandled us," he recalled. "It's a big concern for us. This is one of our biggest challenges of the year. When they lost Chuck Davis (to an early-season injury) a lot of people thought they were going to be bad, but they're actually playing a lot better without him."

Bama (14-9 overall, 7-4 SEC) has been erratic on the road but almost unbeatable in Tuscaloosa. Since losing its SEC opener to Ole Miss, the Tide has won every game on its home floor – beating Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU and Vanderbilt.

That doesn't bode well for Tennessee (19-3, 10-1), which has lost 15 of the last 16 games played in Tuscaloosa.

"This year is probably going to be different," Watson said. "We're going down there with a different mentality."

The Vols are going down there with a different tempo, too, a tempo that could test a Bama squad that relies heavily on its top six players.

"We're pressing, and I think they're going to have trouble with the press," Watson said. "Some of their players play so many minutes that I don't think they can handle our tempo."

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