TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Alabama’s record says plenty about the season’s challenges.
But so do the latest national rankings.
The Crimson Tide (11-16, 5-9 Southeastern Conference) entered Wednesday night’s visit to Mississippi (16-11, 7-7) already assured of its first losing regular-season mark since 1999-2000, Mark Gottfried’s second season.
Most of the blame can go toward deficiencies in the major categories of rebounding, defense and scoring beyond star guard Trevor Releford.
Playing No. 1 Florida (twice), No. 2 Wichita State and No. 6 Duke doesn’t help either, though the Tide dropped those four games by a respectable average of 7.5 points.
“Every one of those games we had opportunities,” coach Anthony Grant said Tuesday. “That’s how fragile it can be. In terms of your individual and team confidence, being able to win one or two of those games makes all the difference in the world. We knew we played a very challenging schedule.
“Sometimes you have to make your breaks. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make some of those breaks against those teams.”
Grant needs a strong finish and an SEC tournament run to avoid his first losing mark in eight seasons as a head coach and first since he was a Florida assistant 16 years ago.
The tough nonconference schedule and losing three players during the offseason made it challenging.
Last year’s No. 2 scorer Trevor Lacey transferred to North Carolina State. Top recruit Devonta Pollard didn’t return for his sophomore season after an offseason arrest, and center Moussa Gueye left for Valparaiso.
The Tide ranks 12th in the SEC in scoring offense and last in rebounds per game and is giving up nearly 10 more points per game than last season.
Grant, though, sees a glimmer of hope in how his players have held up while losing eight of their past 11 games. The Tide is coming off one of its bigger victories of the season, beating Missouri 80-73 Saturday in what Grant called a character win.
The Tide was stuck overnight after the flight back from a Thursday night loss at Texas A&M was canceled, and the bus broke down on the way back to campus Friday, forcing the team to hold an evening practice.
“A lot of times when you see teams going through some of the struggles we go through, you begin to worry in terms of how they feel in terms of the work that they’re putting in and the results that they’re getting,” Grant said.
“I called it a character win because I think our guys have approached practice the right way just in terms of preparing every game, approaching their preparation to try to put themselves in position to win.”
Another encouraging sign for the Tide is that Levi Randolph scored a career-high 33 points against Missouri. He had totaled only 24 in the previous seven games.
It was Alabama’s second win of the month over a team that is still nursing hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Alabama beat Ole Miss 67-64, on Feb. 11 on Releford’s last-second 3-pointer in a tie game.
The senior guard is hoping wins like that translate to a better finish in the last four regular season games and the SEC tournament.
“Winning games like that, any player or competitor, you can see that when you play your best basketball and you buy in, you can win some of those games that we have lost this year,” Releford said.
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