"We've got a tough game on the road against Ole Miss," UA head coach Anthony Grant said of Saturday's game. "It was a challenging double-overtime game the last time we played them. We've got to be prepared for it to be a very emotional game with it being `Senior Night' at their place and a lot on the line right now."
"Our approach has always been to take it one game at a time," Grant said. "Our guys understand that and I think they’re used to that. We’ve got one game left in the regular season and we understand that we’re playing a very good team. "I feel like as a team we’ve gotten better over the course of the year and that’s what you want to see. There’s no formula for figuring that out. As you go through it, you reflect back and you say, ‘either we got better or this happened at this point in the season,’ I think that’s something you look back at the end of the season as opposed to when you’re in the middle of it."
How much have these teams changed since their first meeting back on Feb. 4? On paper, winning seven of its last nine games looks great, but it's not like the Crimson Tide used its double-overtime win over the Rebels last month as a springboard to a memorable march to March. Far from it. Alabama followed up the Ole Miss victory by dropping two of its next three games, a stretch low-lighted by the suspensions of four players. After falling to Florida at home on Valentine's Day, the Crimson Tide wasn't getting a lot of love from bracketologists. Two and half weeks later, UA has reeled off four straight wins and coach Anthony Grant is being mentioned for SEC coach of the year honors. As for the Rebels, Andy Kennedy's team hasn't been a model of consistency, posting a 3-4 mark in their seven games since the last time these teams met. That said, Ole Miss, with an RPI of 59, is riding a two-game win streak and harboring hopes of playing its way into the NCAA Tournament.
It couldn’t have gotten much darker for the Alabama basketball team a few weeks back. Losses and suspensions were compounded by injuries. The season was nearing disaster. Then came the dawn — except it wasn’t a sudden turn. The Crimson Tide’s rebirth didn’t involve a drastic shift, and two weeks after losing its second-straight game, Alabama’s on the verge of recapturing the early-season magic. A win today at Ole Miss (17-12, 7-8 SEC) would be its fifth straight to close the regular season. It would likely secure a first-round bye in next week’s SEC tournament and further solidify the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in six seasons. So what’s the secret to the turnaround from potentially crippling suspensions to the team’s top two scorers? "They’re completely unselfish," said Jon Rothstein, a college basketball analyst for CBS. "Sometimes adversity is opportunity. With Tony Mitchell no longer a part of the basketball team, it opens up opportunities for other people to produce."
Going into the Crimson Tide's final regular-season game at 3 p.m. CST today at Ole Miss (17-12, 7-8 in the SEC), freshmen have accounted for 48 percent of the games started. Never fewer than two and as many as four freshmen have started games this season for the Crimson Tide. Has Grant enjoyed working with young guards Levi Randolph, Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper plus forward Nick Jacobs? "Yes. I love coaching," he said Friday. "I've enjoyed working with our team, and those freshmen have all grown over the course of the year. That's the fun in coaching: seeing the development and the growth on and off the court."
"Coach told me to be more aggressive," Williams said. "I'm not really that type of guy. I try to get more teammates shots. I just have to keep thinking about it: Stay aggressive." Williams, now the only upperclassman in Ole Miss' backcourt, has taken the directive to heart. He's one of three Rebels averaging in double figures at 10.3 points per game (12.0 in SEC games) and leads the team in 3-pointers (30) and free-throw percentage (.759). "He's been much more aggressive as we close down the stretch," Kennedy said of Williams. "Nick brings energy, he brings a good attitude and we know he's going to be dialed in mentally each and every game.
The No. 1 ranked softball team in the country opened the Easton Alabama Invite in impressive fashion as it blitzed Maryland, 19-1, Friday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium. The 19 runs are the most scored by the Crimson Tide this season. After the win UA improves to 14-0 on the season as Maryland moves to 10-4 on the year. Alabama took advantage of 10 walks and banged out 12 hits to score the 19 runs. Senior Amanda Locke, sophomore Kaila Hunt and freshman Danielle Richard had two hits apiece. UA hit four home runs with Locke and Hunt adding four RBI each on the day.
Jackey Branham had to stay to play. More specifically, the infielder for the top-ranked University of Alabama softball team had to spend last summer on campus — and in the weight room — to have a chance to crack the Crimson Tide’s lineup this season. UA coach Patrick Murphy challenged the junior from Troy, Mo., in a one-on-one meeting after last season. "I said we really need to work on your conditioning and your weights, because that’s holding you back," Murphy said. Branham stayed, and is now batting .444. She has played in nine games, starting seven at second base. "That was my first summer that I stayed," she said. "It helps to be really close to the weight room. When I’m here, I’ve got Jordan (Patterson) and Olivia (Gibson) and other people to work out with. When you’re at home, you can say, ‘I’ll take Friday off and I’ll do it Saturday,’ and then Saturday becomes Sunday."
The No. 5 University of Alabama gymnastics team fell to the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners on Friday, 197.300-197.150. It marked Alabama’s first loss of the season, dropping the Crimson Tide to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in Southeastern Conference competition. The Sooners improve to 16-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big XII. "Oklahoma is the No. 2 in the country and they’ve been scoring this way for a reason," UA head coach Sarah Patterson said. "I’m certainly all about winning, but sometimes when something like this happens to your team, and they’re a little disappointed, I don’t think that hurts us in the long run. I think we’ll get back in the gym and it will really help us focus on the things that can make us better."
It was Alabama’s highest road score of the season and fourth 197-plus score in its last five meets. The Tide was led by senior Geralen Stack-Eaton, who won the all-around with a season-high 39.525. Stack-Eaton and senior Ashley Priess won the vault with matching 9.95s while junior Ashley Sledge won the uneven bars with a 9.925. The Tide finished off the night with a 48.925 on the balance beam, led by 9.825s from sophomore Kim Jacob and Sledge. Sledge was a last minute substitution after a sore ankle sidelined senior Ashley Priess. "We had a little bit of a glitch at the end where Ashley Priess’ ankle locked up and I had to make a substitution right at the end," Patterson said. "To see Ashley Sledge come in and score 9.825 when she didn’t expect to be in the competitive beam lineup, I think that is the kind of things that are going to help us at the end."
Exactly two months after the 2011 Alabama football team won the national championship, the 2012 Crimson Tide will kick off its pursuit of its third title in Nick Saban's sixth season as the head coach. Spring practice will begin Friday, March 9, and it will end with the A-Day game on April 14 in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but those dates already had been established.
The SEC is led by Jarrett Lee of LSU. Yes, that's the same Jarrett Lee who rode the bench during the entire national championship game as Jordan Jefferson put up 68 yards on 32 plays. Les Miles, take a bow! Tyler Wilson finished second, ahead of Alabama's A.J. McCarron. Perhaps I was a bit harsh when judging the SEC based on the QB Score rankings. Quarterbacking in the SEC wasn't that bad, unless you were a fan of Auburn, Vandy, Ole Miss, or Kentucky. Tennessee fans must wonder what their season would have looked like if Tyler Bray hadn't missed several games with injury. They probably still would have lost to LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas, but they may have looked a little more competent in their losses. Overall the SEC wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.
With a national championship quarterback returning with two years of remaining eligibility, UA would appear to be in outstanding long-term condition at the position. McCarron was a confident player with limited experience a year ago, so with a full season of action under his belt, he should enter spring drills even more assured this year. Sims gives UA a gifted backup whose competition with McCarron for the starting job lasted through fall camp last year. Sims debunked rumors of a transfer when interviewed in New Orleans before the BCS National Championship Game, and seemed genuinely pleased to be at UA. Meanwhile, Ely continues to develop as a reserve and will begin to see younger competition in the fall when quarterback signee Alec Morris arrives.
Soon, the ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 will all play nine. The Big Ten and Pac-12 start an annual series in 2017. Where does the SEC go for inventory to prove that it's a superior league in a new playoff format, convince fans to buy season tickets, and entice TV to pony up more money? From the SEC, of course. "Nine games would be more attractive for TV," Kramer said. "You'll lose a home game every other year, but you'd probably make it up (financially) to some degree in the TV package." The SEC still draws the most fans in the country. But SEC crowds have dropped 1.3 percent since setting a national record in 2008 while the Big Ten and Big 12 have experienced slight increases. Seven SEC schools declined from 2010 to 2011, led by Kentucky (9 percent drop), Tennessee (5 percent) and Arkansas (3 percent).