Prior to its matchup with the nation's top-ranked team, Alabama will try to remain alone atop the SEC's West Division.
The 18th-ranked Crimson Tide look to continue their road success against Mississippi and extend their slim lead in the division when the teams meet Saturday.Before Alabama (18-5, 5-4) visits No. 1 Florida -- first in the East Division -- on Wednesday, it will try to hold off Mississippi (15-8, 4-5) in the West.The Crimson Tide have had rare success in Oxford recently, winning two straight there for the first time during coach Mark Gottfried's nine-season tenure. Alabama lost its previous seven road games against Ole Miss before posting the two consecutive victories.The Crimson Tide, though, are just 2-4 on the road this season."It's going to be a tremendous challenge," Gottfried told Alabama's Web site. "I think Ole Miss is playing excellent basketball and (Rebels coach) Andy Kennedy is doing a fabulous job. Our main concern right now is just to continue to improve. That's what we're focusing on. We know that this will be a very difficult game."Alabama has won three straight overall, each by three points or less, after dropping four of six from Jan. 6-27.Ronald Steele took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the court for a layup with 6.7 seconds left to give the Crimson Tide an 80-79 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday night."The story is, we've got a team that never quits," Gottfried said. "They never, ever stop playing and that's all you can ask for."Steele, a preseason All-America point guard, has been slowed by ankle and knee injuries all season. He's averaging 9.5 points per game after posting 14.3 in 2005-06.Steele has always struggled against the Rebels, though, averaging 6.6 points while playing at least 33 minutes in each of his five games against them.Richard Hendrix, averaging 14.8 points per game, had 22 on Wednesday and added 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Tide. Hendrix is one of four players averaging double figures in scoring for Alabama, along with Jermareo Davidson (15.0), Alonzo Gee (13.5) and Mykal Riley (12.2).The Rebels have won two straight to stay close to the Tide in the division. A victory Saturday would secure Ole Miss' first winning season since going 20-11 in 2001-02.Alabama native Clarence Sanders came off the bench to score 21 points -- all on 3-pointers -- as the Rebels won 82-59 at Auburn last Saturday.Sanders, who went 7-for-11 from beyond the arc, hit four straight 3s midway through the first half to spark Ole Miss to a 43-31 halftime lead. Sanders, second on the team with 15.9 points per game, went scoreless in two contests against the Tide last season, going 0-for-6 from the field in 15 minutes.Bam Doyne, the Rebels' leading scorer with 16.7 points per game, had 20 last Saturday. The senior guard is averaging 21.7 points while shooting 54 percent from the field in his last three games.Alabama leads the all-time series with Mississippi 111-47, with the Tide winning five of the last six meetings. The teams split two games last season, with each squad winning on the road.