Staying Sharp on Defense Key for Alabama Basketball Against Mississippi State

Staying laser-focused on the defensive end, while making blue-collar plays, is the key for the Crimson Tide to win its ninth straight game against the Bulldogs on Saturday evening
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At 5 p.m (CT) on Saturday afternoon inside Coleman Coliseum, the 18th-ranked University of Alabama men's basketball team will put its eight-game winning streak to the test against Mississippi State. 

The Crimson Tide has been all the talk of the Southeastern Conference after jumping out to a 7-0 record and leading the SEC in three-pointers per game (13.1), three-point field-goal percentage (42.2) and rebounding (42.4). 

Alabama senior guard John Petty Jr. has been red hot since the start of league play, averaging 16.5 points per game and shooting the ball at a clip of 56 percent from beyond-the-arc across those seven contests.

"They are certainly the best team in our league," Bulldogs coach Ben Howland told reporters on Friday. 

But just how long can the Crimson Tide keep it up? 

The 7-0 start is Alabama's best in nearly 35 years and going 18-0 is virtually impossible for anyone. Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats understands a loss could come at anytime to anyone in the grueling SEC, but he wants to make sure that a defeat doesn't occur because of a lack of effort or hustle. 

That is something he can't live with.

"I kind of talked about this before the LSU game," Oats said. "We don't expect to go 18-0, I mean it would be nice, but we are going to go into every single game expecting to win it. If and when we do take a loss, I've told the guys, let's make sure it's not because of an effort, focus issue, or controllable factor. 

"If we lose a game because we missed a lot of threes and they were great shots, we can live with that. That's fine. You aren't going to make 23 three-pointers a game. But we can't lose a game because somebody played harder than us or out-rebounded us because we didn't give the proper effort. We didn't prepare ourselves mentally. We can't have that at all. If we have one of those, I'm going to be really upset. 

"We have set a standard that's really high here and that's not part of that standard. If have one loss because we didn't make enough shots, OK, let's get back in the gym and keep shooting. Let's get locked back in and hopefully start another streak. It will all just depend on when it happens and why."

Currently, the Crimson Tide is a 10.5-point favorite over the visitors from Starkville so the wise guys in Las Vegas aren't too keen on an upset occurring on Saturday evening. 

However, Alabama will have to contain one of the most underrated backcourts in the country with guards Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr., who are both pouring in 17.4 points a piece, in order to keep the momentum rolling as one of the nation's hottest teams.

The Bulldogs' frontcourt is formidable as well with forwards Abdul Ado and Tolu Smith, who are 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-10 respectively. Smith is the team's leading rebounder with 8.8 each time out, while Ado averages two blocks a game. 

"Mississippi State offers some different challenges than we have seen in conference play," Oats said. "They have some real bigs that we are going to keep off the glass. They are always one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They play hard, are well coached, and are very disciplined.

"Molinar and Stewart are two guys that our guards are going to have to be locked into. We are going to need a complete game on the defensive side of the ball... 

"I thought we have had a good last two days of practice and our guys are ready to go."