Jan. 13, 2009
ALABAMA (11-4) at Mississippi State (11-5)
Wednesday, January 14
Tipoff: 7 p.m. CST
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network (Play-by-play - Chris Stewart, Analyst - Bryan Passink)
The University of Alabama men's basketball team aims to improve to 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference when it hits the road to face rival Mississippi State on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.
The Crimson Tide travels over the state line with its 1-0 league record in tow after defeating LSU, 65-59, on Sunday afternoon to improve to 11-4 overall. Mississippi State boasts similar credentials with an 11-5 overall mark after winning its SEC opener, 70-56, over Arkansas in Fayetteville.
"They are playing really, really well right now," said UA head coach Mark Gottfried of the Bulldogs. "They're playing four guards and they're a tough match up.
Obviously playing over there in Starkville will be tough. We know all that, but at the same time, our guys had a good preparation day yesterday, we'll have another one today and get ready to go."
Wednesday's game will be the 181st in the old rivalry that dates back to 1913 with UA holding a 110-70 advantage in the series.
Much like Sunday's game against LSU, Wednesday's contest will pit two of the SEC's better defenses against each other with each team giving up 64 points or less per outing. Additionally, opponents are shooting a combined 37.9 percent against the pair.
The game also matches two of the SEC's winningest coaches in UA's Mark Gottfried and MSU's Rick Stansbury. Both are in the top-20 in all-time SEC wins and have a combined 428-248 (.633) record. They are also the two longest-tenured coaches in the SEC Western Division with each in their 11th season on their respective benches.
Sophomore Senario Hillman leads the Tide into Starkville fresh off a career afternoon against LSU in which he torched the Tigers for a career-high 24 points and scored UA's final nine points of the game to seal the victory.
"He [Hillman] can just impact a game so much," said Gottfried. "He's a confident player right now because he's got that year [of experience] under his belt. I think he actually has gotten more athletic since he got here. He's improved and I believe he can improve a lot more and he's going to continue to improve as we go on."
The 6-1 guard is averaging 18.0 points, three boards, three assists and two steals in his last three games.
Meanwhile, Alonzo Gee is coming off his third double-double of the season, a 14-point, 13-rebound performance against LSU. All three of his double-doubles have come in the last five games with him averaging 14.8 points and 11.2 rebounds during that span.
For MSU, reigning SEC defensive player of the year Jarvis Varnado leads the squad with 13 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and tops in the nation with 5.4 blocks per game.
On the perimeter, Ravern Johnson is averaging 12.1 points and is converting on 48 percent of his team-high 77 three-point attempts.
Johnson and Varnado are both fed by freshman point guard Dee Bost who is averaging 4.3 assists per game in addition his 9.2 points per game this season.
"He's [Bost] been terrific. He has played very well for a young player," said Gottfried. "He's extremely talented and the way they're playing with the four guards really makes all of their guards difficult to defend."
Following Wednesday night's game, the Tide will set its sights on in-state rival Auburn as it goes for its 25th all-time win on the Plains in a series it leads by an 84-53 margin. Tipoff at Auburn is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday.