Bama game vital for Vols

With a loss at South Carolina in the rearview mirror and a likely loss at Kentucky on the horizon, Saturday's game with Alabama could be a ''must-win'' situation for the Tennessee Vols.

A homefloor loss to the Tide, coupled with a probable road loss to the second-ranked Wildcats Wednesday in Lexington, would put Tennessee on a three-game skid. It also would drop UT's season record to 15-9 and its SEC mark to 7-6. In addition, it would leave the Vols needing to sweep their three remaining regular-season games to reach the 18-win plateau, which some experts consider the magic number for an NCAA Tournament bid.

So, what must the Vols do in order to beat the Crimson Tide?

''We've got to do a good job with Dudley and Walker inside,'' UT coach Buzz Peterson said. ''It can't just be our post guys. The perimeter has got to help there.''

The reference is to Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker, who rank first and fourth, respectively, among SEC players in offensive rebounds per game. Dudley averages 3.9 per game, Walker 2.81. Dudley also leads the SEC in defensive rebounds (6.05 per game), while Walker ranks second in blocked shots (2.05 per game).

The Vols also will need to keep Bama point guard Mo Williams from finding his rhythm. Williams' shot selection has been erratic this year but he remains one of the SEC's most dangerous outside shooters when he finds the range.

''We've got to contain Mo Williams ... (make sure there's) nothing easy for him,'' Peterson said. ''Mo Williams' speed is a big concern. But C.J. (Watson) knows Mo is one of the top players in the country and that he has to be on top of his game.''

Williams (15.2 points per game) combines with Dudley (14.7 ppg) to give Bama a dandy 1-2 scoring punch, much as Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams do for Georgia.

''I think so,'' Peterson said. ''What I like about 'em is the inside/out. One is the point guard (Williams) and the other's the post guy (Dudley). When you've got those two scoring like that, you've got your inside/out going.''

The question is: Will the Tide turn Tennessee inside/out?

Probably not. After starting the season 9-0 and ascending to the top spot in the Associated Press national rankings, Bama has gone 5-8 since then. The Tide is particularly inept on the road, losing at Vanderbilt (70-69), at Auburn (77-68), at Ole Miss (76-57), at Arkansas (70-81) and at Florida (75-56).

Peterson conceded that ''They haven't played so well on the road -- haven't shot the ball as well as they'd like -- but you know they can if the right opportunity presents itself.''

Don't look for the ''right opportunity'' to present itself Saturday. Assuming Tennessee's crowd is appropriatedly hostile and the Vols are appropriately focused, the Big Orange should be able to continue Bama's road misery.

My pick: Tennessee 75, Alabama 66.


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