News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Tide hits road quickly for NIT game

By Josh Cooper 340-2460

On an Atlantic 10 coaches teleconference with reporters, Massachusetts coach Travis Ford gave a glowing report on the Alabama basketball team.

He talked about the Crimson Tide's post play, guard play, power and overall well-roundedness as a team.

"I haven't seen too many weaknesses yet," the former Kentucky guard said Monday. "I know injuries have played a role on their basketball team lately, but they're as good as any team we've played."

Fifth-seeded Alabama (20-11) will play fourth-seeded Massachusetts (23-8) in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., and in preparation for the game, Ford must not have seen videotape of the Crimson Tide's last five games, four of which were losses.

On top of the slump, Alabama faces a difficult situation with the quick turnaround between landing the NIT bid Sunday night and the game Tuesday.

Alabama had to scuttle quickly, chartering a plane that left Monday rather than making reservations on a commercial jet.

But according to Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried, his group is hitting the road, packed for two games and ready to play Massachusetts (23-8). If Alabama wins, it will play Thursday either at top-seeded West Virginia or at home against eighth-seeded Delaware State.

"We want to compete as hard as possible," Gottfried said. "Your attitude should be to try to win it and nothing short of that."

Alabama guard Brandon Hollinger said he and his teammates aren't going to lie down because it's the NIT.

"Our team has been practicing hard since we lost to Kentucky in the SEC tournament, and we are approaching this with the mind-set that if we are going to play in the postseason, we're going to play hard whether we're playing in the NCAA or the NIT," he said.

Teammate Richard Hendrix agreed.

"I think the mind-set is, 'We've got another chance to play,' and we've got to take advantage of it, go here and play as hard as we can, don't fold the tent too early," said Hendrix, an Athens High graduate.

Hendrix said that winning in the NIT can provide a lift for next season.

"It carries you over with higher expectations and a little more momentum to the next season,"he said. "I just hope that we come in with the same mentality, to try and win this thing, that it will carry into next year."

Beating the Minutemen could rest on stopping its post play. Massachusetts is similar to the Tide in that it has two inside players who can score.

Center Rashaun Freeman averaged 15.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, and 6-foot-8 forward Stephane Lasme scored 13.3 points while swatting five blocks a game.

Gottfried couldn't say that he knew too much about the Minutemen because few of their games were on television.

The Alabama coach said that he had only "two or three" of them on tape. Meanwhile, Ford has his pick of which Crimson Tide (20-11) games he wants to watch as the team records most of them.

"I've watched three games since last night and today," Ford said Monday afternoon. "They are just very good. They are big and strong inside and good outside."

While Massachusetts might not play in a power conference, the Minutemen aren't the happiest group to be playing in the NIT either.

The Minutemen shared the A-10 regular-season championship with Xavier and then saw almost their entire team go down with the flu before the conference tournament. Massachusetts ended up losing to St. Louis in overtime.

According to Ford, the team didn't practice during the four days leading up to the tournament.

"It was like nothing I've ever experienced," Ford said.

While Massachusetts might be relatively healthy now, Alabama is still battling the injury bug. Ronald Steele (knee) may not play, which is nothing new for the frustrated Tide.

"Obviously, we went to (the SEC tournament) in Atlanta thinking with a lot of hope," Gottfried said. "We're very disappointed."

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