TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Alabama men's basketball team will continue Southeastern Conference play when it travels to square off against Mississippi State on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. CT.
"We're looking forward to the challenge of going on the road again at Mississippi State," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "Obviously, Mississippi State has gotten off to a great start, 2-0 in the league. They had a great home win against South Carolina and then going on the road at Georgia and getting a win there. I've been very impressed watching them on film. They've got a lot of young guys who are doing an outstanding job, you look at the way they're defending and the way they are winning ballgames. Coach (Rick) Ray and his staff have done a great job of getting those guys acclimated to his system, getting the experience they need and playing very good basketball right now at an extremely high confidence level. For our team, we are coming off a good win here at home against Tennessee so we've got to take the momentum, experiences and everything we learned from that game and try to carry it over as we go on the road."
The Crimson Tide (9-6, 1-1 SEC) is coming off a 68-65 victory over Tennessee last Saturday in UA's first home conference game of the season. Junior guard Trevor Releford and sophomore guard Trevor Lacey led the Tide with 15 points each, while sophomore guard Levi Randolph had 12 points and six rebounds in the win. Senior guard Andrew Steele added 11 points and a season-high four steals.
Releford continues to anchor an Alabama backcourt, which features the top four scorers on this year's team. A preseason All-SEC honoree, Releford tops the team and ranks seventh in the league in scoring (16.3 ppg). In addition, the Kansas City, Mo., native ranks third in the league in free throw percentage (.853), fourth in field goal percentage (.483) and ninth in steals (1.8 spg).
However, Grant told the media during Tuesday's press conference that Releford injured his ankle during Monday's practice and is listed as doubtful to suit up for the Mississippi State contest.
"Releford injured his ankle (Monday) in practice so we don't know the status of him for the game," Grant said. "He's doubtful right now, but we'll evaluate it here again (Tuesday). From my standpoint, I think it gives our younger guys an opportunity to step up and assume different roles. It gives other guys opportunities to get on the floor and do the things that they came here to do. So whether or not he's available, our full expectation is to go in there and play well."
Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game and leads the squad in three-point field goal percentage (41.8), three pointers made (28) and attempted (67) and assists (3.3 apg). Combined, the duo contributes 28.8 points per game, or approximately 44 percent of the team's 65.9 points per game.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Rodney Cooper also averages double figures with 11.7 ppg and leads the team in total field goals attempted (150).
Mississippi State comes into Wednesday's contest sporting a 7-7 mark on the year and are tied atop the league standings with a 2-0 SEC record. The Bulldogs, who have won four of their last five games coming into the Alabama game, most recently captured a 72-61 victory at Georgia last Saturday.
Mississippi State is led by sophomore forward Roquez Johnson, who averages a team-leading 12.0 points a game, along with 5.2 rebounds per contest. Junior guard Jalen Steele (11.5 ppg) and freshman guard Fred Thomas (10.0 ppg) also averaging in double figures for the Bulldogs. Freshman forward Gavin Ware leads the team with 7.1 rebounds a game and contributes 8.4 points and 1.2 blocks a game.
The Bulldogs have gotten off to a 2-0 start in SEC play thanks in large part to their efforts on the defensive end of the floor. Through the first two conference games, Mississippi State tops the league in steals per game (11.5), is second in blocked shots (6.0) and ranks third in the league in scoring defense (57.5) and field goal percentage defense (.358).
Wednesday's game will mark the 189th meeting on the hardwood between the two schools. It is the most games Alabama has played against any opponent in program history. The Tide owns a 115-73 edge in the series, which includes a 36-54 record in games played in Starkville. Last year, the teams split the two contests, with Mississippi State claiming a 56-52 win in Humphrey Coliseum on Jan. 14, 2012 and Alabama capturing a 67-50 victory in Coleman Coliseum on Feb. 25, 2012.
The contest will be televised on CSS and can also be heard on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, with Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink on the call. Fans can also follow the in-game action with live tweets on the team's official Twitter page @AlabamaMBB.
ALABAMA HEAD COACH Anthony Grant
On Mississippi State winning three in a row and turning things around:
"They're 2-0 in the league and that gets your attention right away. I've only watched the last two or three ballgames that they've played, but what stands out to me is the way that they defend. They throw a variety of defenses at you and what they've been able to do is hold opponents to the mid-30's (percentage) from the field, low-20's (percentage) from the three point line. They're just doing a really good job of being active. Their defense is getting them out in transition and creating offense for them. They've got [Jalen] Steele, their veteran player and most experienced guy on their team, who's done a great job in leading them from an offensive standpoint. They have a lot of young guys, a lot of freshman and sophomore that are playing with great confidence and going out and making plays, so they are a very dangerous team because they can throw a variety of defenses at you that you have to deal with. They are playing with a lot of confidence and freedom right now."
On Trevor Releford missing a game earlier in season being beneficial now:
"As you mentioned, I think it was early December, late November that we played without him and I thought our guys responded well. The thing I tell our guys, it's always better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared. I think our guys prepared in practice, I think they are ready for the opportunity if the opportunity presents itself. We hope that Trevor is going to be able to go, I'll find out his status today in practice in terms of where he is after yesterday. I think right now I'd list him as questionable-to-doubtful, but we'll evaluate that as we go through the day."
On the game being Devonta Pollard's homecoming:
"We haven't discussed it yet. I'm sure at some point over the next 48 hours, he and I will talk about what the expectations are. Devonta has done a great job of being locked in, in terms of what myself and our staff are asking him to do and what he needs to do to help this team win. Obviously it will be an emotional time, I think he's friends with some of the players on their team that he played AAU with and what not. I think he's done a really good job of being able to focus in on the task at hand."
On if Trevor Releford can't go, does that change Retin Obasohan's role:
"If he's unable to go, [Trevor] Lacey will probably play more point. Retin will have an opportunity to come in and play some point. Levi [Randolph] could end up handling the ball some at the point guard spot, so I think we have a variety of guys that are capable of going in there and doing a good job for us. You look at our numbers in SEC play, right now we're giving up 52% from the field and teams are shooting about 46-47% from the three point line. We're being outrebounded by five a game. I'm more concerned about what we do on the defensive end. Making sure we understand what we have got to be able to do defensively to give ourselves the best chance to win. Offensively, it comes down to taking care of the basketball and I think we have enough good players that if we share the basketball and play together, I feel comfortable that we'll be able to have offensive success."
Sophomore Guard Levi Randolph
On the possibility of playing without Trevor Releford:
"We play different roles in practice, so I think that practice prepares us for having different people at different spots. Playing those games early in the season without him has helped us and I think we will be okay."
On the defense in the second half of the Tennessee game:
"I felt that our defense created a lot of offense in the second half. At halftime we talked about picking up our intensity and coming down and playing with great passion and getting our defense to transition into easy buckets."
On Coach Grant's emotion in the Tennessee game:
"I didn't feel like it was out of character for him. I feel that Coach Grant usually shows a lot of emotion and has a lot of passion and love for the game. We see that every day at practice."