Alabama-Mississippi St. Preview

The Associated Press

With five straight double-digit victories, Alabama is starting to resemble the team that was ranked 19th in the preseason.

Mississippi State knows about losing by double digits to the Crimson Tide.

The No. 20 Bulldogs put their nine-game home win streak on the line Saturday when they try to avenge two losses to Alabama from last season.

Alabama (13-3, 2-0 SEC) fell out of the rankings after losing three of four from Dec. 1-17. The Crimson Tide have won their five games since by an average margin of 19.0 points, including a 69-53 home victory over LSU on Wednesday.

The Tigers' 35.8 percent shooting wasn't a surprise. The Crimson Tide are first in the conference in scoring defense (55.7 ppg), second in defensive field-goal percentage (36.6) and among the nation's best in limiting opponents to 26.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers.

"In both halves our defense carried us,'' coach Anthony Grant said. "That was the key for us tonight."

Alabama won the two meetings with Mississippi State (14-3, 1-1) last season by a combined 32 points. The Bulldogs shot 37.2 percent overall and 26.2 on 3s in those defeats.

"Alabama will get up into you, and will pressure you on offense," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "They will get up into you in the half-court defense and they will also mix it up with their zone defense. Alabama is a very good defensive team and they will be very physical."

Defense was a slight concern for the Bulldogs after last Saturday's 98-88 loss at Arkansas in their SEC opener. They recovered Thursday for a 62-58 victory over Tennessee.

"No team had scored more than 75 points on us all year long, so I didn't panic coming into this game," Stansbury said. "Tonight's effort was better."

Top scorer Dee Bost had 13 points on 3 of 11 shooting, coming up with a critical steal and dunk in the closing seconds for the final margin. Bost is shooting 28.3 percent over his last five games.

The senior guard is averaging 15.7 points on 37.2 percent shooting in six career games against Alabama.

"He's been struggling some offensively, but you never fault his effort,'' Stansbury said.

Crimson Tide star forward JaMychal Green has four double-doubles in six games against the Bulldogs, averaging 13.8 points and 9.7 rebounds.

Green is working his way back from a shoulder injury. He started Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 17, but scored fewer than 10 points for the third straight game.

"We have players like JaMychal who is trying to get back into a rhythm so he can get back to where he normally is," Grant said. "We just need to understand that it is going to take some time with the amount of time that he has missed to get himself back in the rhythm."

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Green could find it difficult inside against a Bulldogs frontcourt that features 6-10, 270-pound forward Renardo Sidney and 6-11, 230-pound newcomer Arnett Moultrie.

Alabama is shooting 51.5 percent during its win streak. The Tide, though, continue to struggle from the perimeter with the SEC's second-worst mark on 3s at 27.7 percent.

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