Through seven convincing Southeastern Conference wins, coach Nate Oats has watched his second-ranked Alabama squad take care of its business as well as — if not better than — any team in the country.
Oats will be looking for the Crimson Tide to stay perfect in conference play when his team takes the court Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the struggling Mississippi State Bulldogs. The meeting is the second this season between the two teams.
Across its seven SEC victories, Alabama (17-2, 7-0 SEC) has won by an average of 21 points per game.
On Saturday, against a Missouri team rolling from an emotional home win over then-No. 25 Arkansas, Oats’ team frustrated the host Tigers, who are among the nation’s best when it comes to forcing turnovers.
Alabama took care of the ball, though, and its defense was outstanding. It held Missouri to 32.9 percent (23 of 70) from the field and just 10.7 percent (3 of 28) from long distance.
“We are fortunate that they couldn’t make a three tonight and it certainly helped our defense out,” Oats said. “They scrap and play hard so give our guys a lot of credit because I thought we played hard for a majority of the game.
“We had a big point of emphasis that Missouri is No. 1 in turning the ball over and turnover rate on defense so we had 11 turnovers in the game. … Our guys have been doing what we’ve asked them to do for the most part.”
At Mississippi State (12-7, 1-6) on Dec. 28, Alabama kicked off its SEC campaign with a 78-67 win behind Brandon Miller’s third double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) of the season. The Tide held hosts to 20-for-55 (36.4 percent) shooting.
After his Tigers lost by 21 on their home court Saturday, Missouri coach Dennis Gates has seen enough.
“No. 1 team in the country, Alabama,” Gates said. “I said it all along. They have the length. They have the athleticism. They have the shooting ability which I thought we stifled in the first half because they rely on it.”
With the perfect mark, the Crimson Tide hold a one-game lead over two 6-1 teams — Tennessee and Auburn — in the conference.
Mississippi State coach Chris Jans saw his squad fight back from a 16-point deficit against Florida Saturday night, roaring back to tie the home match 45-45 with 9:14 left before losing 61-59 to the Gators. The Bulldogs missed two attempts in the final seconds to force overtime.
The downturn in Mississippi State’s campaign has been a dramatic one.
Before the Battle in the Vault in Lincoln, Neb., on Dec. 20, Jans’ then-No. 15 Bulldogs were 11-0, ranked No. 2 nationally in defense and remained one of the handful of unbeaten teams across the country.
But they lost 58-52 to Drake and have won only once in the past eight games.
“It’s a real frustrated group of guys,” said junior swingman Cameron Matthews. “We work too hard to be getting this close every game. We know these are teams we can beat, we’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and figure some things out and get back right.”
Since the 2016-17 season, the Bulldogs have won just four of 15 meetings with Alabama.