published Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Tougher Crimson Tide on roll in hoops

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    Alabama's Rodney Cooper dives for a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Cooper scored a team-high 17 points as Alabama defeated Arkansas 79-68. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)

Alabama doesn't have any NCAA tournament experience on its men's basketball roster, but the Crimson Tide are loaded in the requisite for advancing of overcoming adversity.

Nearing the end of a month that has included four player suspensions, including one for the season, Alabama is on an unexpected tear. The Tide have roared to double-digit wins over Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State, and they've had the athleticism all along to be a difficult foe come March Madness.

"It's one of those experiences that will help your team in the long run," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said Monday. "Any time you can right that ship when you're without some guys, it only makes you better, and that's kind of what they've done."

The Tide throttled Stansbury's Bulldogs 67-50 Saturday in Tuscaloosa to improve to 19-9 overall and 8-6 in the SEC. If Alabama's ticket hasn't been punched to NCAA play with their record and their No. 29 ranking in the RPI, then a victory Wednesday night over visiting Auburn should cement that issue.

Alabama's three-game surge came on the heels of six losses in nine games, a skid that was impacted by the suspensions of the team's top four scorers -- senior forward JaMychal Green, junior forward Tony Mitchell, junior guard Andrew Steele and sophomore guard Trevor Releford. All four missed a 67-58 loss at LSU on Feb. 11, which dropped the Tide to 5-5 league play.

Steele and Releford returned for a 61-52 home loss to Florida, which preceded the 62-50 win over the visiting Volunteers on Feb. 18 that turned things around.

"I think any time you can win, that helps in everything," third-year Tide coach Anthony Grant said. "Obviously we've had a couple of wins here, and our guys have always worked hard. What you're seeing as a group is the level of confidence maybe that we didn't see when we were going through a rough patch.

"We've had some consistency on the defensive end. Now we're starting to get some consistency offensively, and that certainly has helped."

Green came off suspension last week but didn't return to the court until Saturday, netting nine points in 25 minutes. Mitchell was the first of the four suspended, getting benched Feb. 6 for conduct detrimental to the team, and will not be allowed to return.

The biggest difference Saturday wasn't Green's return but the freshman guard tandem of Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, who combined to hit four of five 3-point shots in helping Alabama pull away from a 25-25 halftime deadlock.

"Anthony does a great job of putting his team in a position to be successful," Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin said. "They play hard. They defend. They play well together. They've got some good young talent, and you had not seen that a lot because they've got those veteran guys."

Said Grant: "I think the combination of the experience and the necessity to step out and do some things has made our team better."

Alabama hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2006, when it made a fifth consecutive trip.

No consolation

Despite losing 83-74 Saturday in Rupp Arena, Vanderbilt assured itself of being the only SEC team to play the No. 1 Wildcats within 10 points twice. Kentucky is two wins shy of a 16-0 league season, and nine of its 14 wins have come by double digits.

"We expected to play them well," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "Quite honestly, we expected to play them better than we did."

Davis honored

Kentucky freshman forward Anthony Davis was named Monday as SEC player of the week after averaging 20.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Davis scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting against the Commodores and has 13 double-doubles this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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