February 20, 2009
For more than 10 years, Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury and Alabama''s Mark Gottfried were rivals.
The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide enjoyed several intense games in that time, including last year''s "tornado" game the Bulldogs won 69-67 in overtime in Atlanta at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
After Gottfried''s resignation earlier this season, the matchup at 2 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., will be the first for Stansbury without seeing Gottfried on the other bench.
Stansbury, who had the edge with a 14-9 mark against Gottfried, insists it''s not about who is coaching Alabama.
"I never looked down there before when we played them, as crazy as that sounds," Stansbury said. "It never was about Mark, but about Alabama.
"It''s the same team. We''ll be playing Alabama, but not Gottfried. You don''t know who''s coaching. You are watching that game. It will be different when you walk onto the court and shake hands and he''s not there is a different part, but once the game starts you don''t know who the coach is."
Philip Pearson, who was Gottfried''s top assistant, took over as interim coach and is 1-5.
The coaching transition and recent losses have been tough on the Crimson Tide (13-12, 3-8 Southeastern Conference).
"Our guys are used to winning, so the last few weeks have not been the easiest of situations," Pearson said. "To their credit, they''ve hung in there and we''ve had some games where we''ve been right in it."
MSU, which beat Alabama 83-74 in Starkville on Jan. 17, knows Pearson will find ways to keep his team motivated.
Stansbury said the Alabama team the Bulldogs will face Saturday is the same one that handed LSU its only loss in the SEC.
"They are very good at home," Stansbury said. "Sometimes a losing streak makes you hungry and more relaxed. It''s a matter of pride for them and they want to win. They won''t give up."
Alonzo Gee leads the Crimson Tide in scoring (14.2 points per game).
Mississippi State (17-9, 7-4) received a boost Wednesday night when it defeated South Carolina 75-70.
The victory helped the Bulldogs end a two-game losing streak, and sophomore guard Ravern Johnson hopes they will take that momentum to Alabama.
"We just need to play like we did (Wednesday)," Johnson said. "It was a win to get us back on track, so we''ve just got to come out and play hard (again)."
Johnson (12.4 ppg.) is MSU''s second-leading scorer. Junior center Jarvis Varnado leads the team in scoring (13.2 ppg.) and rebounding (9.2 rebounds per game).
n Georgia at Ole Miss, 4 p.m., Saturday: Ole Miss is recognizing its organization in 1909 with a special ceremony.
Some of the top players in school history will be on hand to help commemorate 100 years of men''s basketball.
Although the Rebels will celebrate their past, Georgia interim coach Pete Herrmann said the current Ole Miss edition looks pretty good.
"I know they are confident and are playing with enthusiasm," Herrmann said. "We know it''s going to be a tough matchup. We have to get off to a better start and be as aggressive as they are going to be."
Ole Miss (14-11, 5-6) is coming off an 81-65 win against SEC co-leading Tennessee on Wednesday night.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy continues to watch his team grow.
"The effort for the most part has been tremendous," Kennedy said. "We have good kids of high character."
Junior guard David Huertas leads the Rebels in scoring (19 ppg.). Freshman point guard Terrico White adds 11.6 ppg. per outing.