"I'm just really proud of our guys today," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "We were kind of slow starting off offensively and some of our plays didn't go to plan, but we always say it's a 40-minute game. We gave up some easy baskets out of transition and in the press. In the second half we got some shots to fall and our defensive intensity was the difference."
Levi Randolph and Alabama’s shooters heated up, the defense clamped down and the resurgent Crimson Tide rolled along with a little help from a familiar face. Randolph scored a career-high 18 points and Alabama welcomed JaMychal Green back from suspension with a superb second half in Saturday’s 67-50 win over reeling Mississippi State. "In the second half, we had a dominating performance all the way around," Tide coach Anthony Grant said.
"Levi, over the course of the year, has had his struggles offensively. But one thing that I always say about freshmen is that sometimes they just need to see the ball go in the basket. That's what happened for Levi tonight. "But all year long, he has been a guy can rely on from the defensive end. He has the ability to guard guys who do different things. He has been one of our leading rebounders. He has an extremely high basketball IQ."
Stock up: Alabama At a time when SEC bubble teams seem more determined to miss the field than make it, Alabama is an exception. The Tide continue to shake off the season-long suspension to second-leading scorer Tony Mitchell, bludgeoning fellow bubble hopeful Mississippi State 67-50 for their third straight win. Alabama (19-9, 8-6) isn't a lock yet, but they're clearly the SEC's fourth-strongest team with only winnable games against Auburn and Ole Miss remaining in the regular season.
Alabama guard Trevor Lacey started, but with five minutes left in the first half he appeared to reinjure a right ankle he sprained two nights earlier at Arkansas. He hobbled off the court and didn't play again. Green, the Tide's leading scorer and rebounder, entered the game to loud applause with 13:58 left in the first half. He didn't appear too rusty, managing a quick assist at the end of a fast-break layup He made 3 of 4 baskets. Releford had hit three free throws with four-tenths of a second left in the first half to tie the game at 25 and that momentum carried over into the second half.
For much of the first half, MSU battled Alabama on even terms. In fact, the Bulldogs were a little better than even until the final four-tenths of a second. But with that tiny sliver of time remaining, Trevor Releford, who had pushed the ball upcourt in 4 seconds, was fouled in the act of shooting a 3-pointer. Releford made all three free throws, and what would have been a 25-22 halftime deficit ended up a 25-25 tie at intermission. "I thought we took the last play of the half into the locker room and came out and played that way in the first five minutes of the second half, and that was the game," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "That was a huge bad play at the end of the half. For 20 minutes, we had the game at our pace, and we let that slip away. Then they come out in the first five minutes of the second half and make some shots and that’s the ball game."
Alabama 67, Mississippi State 50: It was instinctively easy to write off the Crimson Tide when coach Anthony Grant suspended Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green; it was easy to predict a late collapse, even a fall off the bubble, for a team whose two leading scorers would be missing such important games down the stretch. Instead, the Crimson Tide keep, well, rolling. They've now won three in a row and prevented any hint of a collapse. Mississippi State, on the other hand, appears to be doing exactly that: The Bulldogs are collapsing. This is the Bulldogs' fifth consecutive defeat, a stretch that has included some good basketball (in the near-miss vs. Kentucky this week) but also some baffling losses (the loss at Auburn especially). It's no stretch to say Mississippi State -- which for much of the season looked like a tourney near-lock -- could wind up missing the tournament after all. The Bulldogs are, after all, 6-8 and tied with rival Ole Miss in the SEC standings. Ouch.
Speaking for the first time since being suspended Feb. 11, Green said it was hard sitting at home watching his teammates play on television. A more confident and mature team greeted him upon his return to practice Monday. His motivation against the Bulldogs was stopping junior Arnett Moultrie, who had a 25-point, 13-rebound game Jan. 14 in a 56-52 Alabama loss. Moultrie's sequel featured just seven points and eight rebounds over 40 minutes. "It felt great for me," Green said, who passed Robert Horry for 13th on Alabama's all-time scoring list Saturday. "The bigs took it personal to defend him, and we did a great job."
The football people in the know agree that no running back in the upcoming draft comes closer to being the total package than Alabama's Trent Richardson. As was the case with Mark Ingram, the Crimson Tide's previous featured back, who was drafted late in the first round last season by the Saints, Richardson is expected to waste no time making his mark at the pro level. Just ask him. "When it comes down to it, I'll be the dude that's on the field getting the ball on 3rd-and-3 or 4th-and-1," said Richardson in a late Friday-afternoon interview at the Combine. "I can bring you a little-league tape and show you that I have never been caught from behind. If anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape. "Everybody knows I can run the ball. A lot of people try to find a negative in my game, but there aren't too many negatives that I have."
Upshaw starred at outside linebacker for the Crimson Tide, and he's likely to play there in the NFL. But if a team wants to move him to defensive end, he's willing to go there. "Nobody told me exactly, 'I want you to play end,' or, 'I want you to play outside linebacker,'" Upshaw said Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, where he is participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. "If I meet with a team, they ask me where I feel comfortable. I feel I can play both positions." Hightower manned the middle linebacker spot for Alabama, but what if an NFL team wants to take advantage of his speed and move him to the outside? No problem, he says. "Whatever I've got to do to get on the field and contribute to the team to win the Super Bowl, that's what I'm looking forward to," he said Saturday. Chapman was the run-stopping nose guard in a 3-4 defense, but if he's drafted by a team that runs a 4-3, he said playing defensive tackle would be no big deal. He credits Alabama coach Nick Saban for developing versatility on the Tide's defense. Playing in a 3-4 defense, playing nose guard, you're right in the middle," Chapman said. "But in our defense, we don't just play the 3-4. It looks like the 3-4, but I shift to a D-tackle sometimes. It's nothing new. Coach Saban does a lot of shifting. He throws a lot of defenses at us ... and I feel I can play all across the board."
Fellow Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw believes Hightower could be a special NFL player. "He's a big guy who can move,'' Upshaw said. "I've been training with him ever since we got done (with the college season) and to see that guy move the way he moves - whoever gets him is going to be proud to get him. He makes plays. He was the leader of our defense. I'm sure he can go in and lead a team in the NFL.''
As for determining the final four teams, Scott said a notion that Roy Kramer, a former Southeastern Conference commissioner, expressed to CBSSports.com last week "resonated with me." To keep the integrity of the regular season and the conference championship games, Kramer said, all of the teams in the playoff should be conference champions. It was an interesting position for Kramer, as that plan would probably be a detriment to the SEC, which had two teams play for the B.C.S. title in January. "So much of the passion of a move to a playoff is to see it earned on the field," Scott said. "What more clear way to have intellectual consistency with the idea of a playoff than to earn it as a conference champion? It would de-emphasize the highly subjective polls that are based on a coach and media voting and a few computers." He added that any formula "based more on results" would be good for the sport.