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Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried said he is thankful all the SEC West teams have “stumbled and fumbled around just a little bit.” Alabama travels to Baton Rouge, La., on Wednesday.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried said he is thankful all the SEC West teams have "stumbled and fumbled around just a little bit." Alabama travels to Baton Rouge, La., on Wednesday.

Alabama, LSU both needing win
Struggling SEC teams meet Wednesday

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

For Athens High graduate Richard Hendrix, every Alabama basketball game is an important one.

But added with the importance of Wednesday's matchup at LSU is an unexpected tinge of urgency. And for both teams, which were highly ranked at the start of the year, "unexpected" is the surprise word.

"I thought it would be important, maybe not in this instance where both of us really, really need a win." Hendrix said. "They're going to be hungry just like we are."

LSU and Alabama — ranked fifth and 11th in The Associated Press preseason polls, respectively — were predicted by several publications to finish first and second in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division.

But both have struggled. Both are 2-4 in the SEC and find themselves just half a game ahead of Ole Miss for last place. The Rebels are 2-5.

The Tigers (13-7 overall) are coming off consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia, while Alabama (15-5) is reeling after defeats to Auburn and Arkansas.

"It's a big game for both teams," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "You've got two very good basketball teams that have struggled just a little bit, and both teams I think will play well."

If Alabama wants to try to climb back into not just the SEC race but NCAA tournament chase as well, it will have to avoid its problem of starting games slowly. The Crimson Tide hasn't been sprinter-like coming out of the gate in road games, and its finishing touch hasn't mirrored that of a champion distance runner.

The Crimson Tide trailed by 17 at the half in a loss at Vanderbilt and was outscored by 25 points in the second half in a loss at Auburn.

The only road win the Tide has all season was an 82-75 win over an undersized North Carolina State team. · ·

Gottfried has said that part of the problem is confidence. In response to that, he appears to have changed his approach since the Tide's 63-57 loss against Arkansas on Saturday. In news conferences, he has talked about keeping positive and bringing positive energy back to the team.

Ultimately, it's about reminding them how they are talented and shouldn't be fighting for one of the last spots in the NCAA tournament.

"The last thing we want to do is lose confidence," Hendrix said. "If we had that mindset, it would add more to problems."

The only problem is that LSU is in the same boat.

A Final Four team a year ago, the Tigers are loaded with solid players, including the reigning SEC player of the year in Glen Davis, but haven't put together a long stretch of wins.

"The good news is that, for whatever reason in the West, we've all kind of just stumbled and fumbled around just a little bit, and nobody has really clearly separated from the pack," Gottfried said.

"And for us, that's a positive. We have not played well. But we can turn it around, and a lot of great things can still happen because of the way the league has played itself out to this point."

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