Alabama has given itself a tough, but not impossible, task in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
To win the event and earn the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tourney, the Tide is going to have to win four games in four days because Saturday’s 60-51 loss to Ole Miss dropped the Tide into the No. 5 spot in the final regular-season standings.
Only the top four teams get first-round byes in the 12-team event.
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Just three teams — Auburn in 1985, Arkansas in 2000, and Georgia in 2008 — have managed to win the tourney after being required to play in the first round since the SEC revived the tournament in the 1979 season.
The Tide went into its final regular-season game needing a victory to keep alive its chances for a fourth-place finish, but dropped behind Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt in falling to 9-7 in the conference.
The Tide, which is 20-10 overall, will play last-place South Carolina on the first day of the tourney in New Orleans.
The two teams met in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 25 with the Tide becoming one of the Gamecocks’ two SEC victims by a 56-54 count.
That was the fourth setback for the Tide in a four-game losing streak. The Tide went 7-3 after that despite having to contend with injuries and suspensions to as many as four players, including the top two scorers and rebounders, JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell.
Green has since returned along with two others, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele who served one suspensions. Mitchell will miss the rest of the season.
-Senior F JaMychal Green recorded his 26th career double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds in Alabama’s loss at Ole Miss. He was 5-of-8 from the field and also blocked three shots, handed out two assists, and had one steal against no turnovers.
Since returning from a four-game suspension, Green scored 35 points and gathered 26 rebounds in his final three regular-season games.
-Three-point shooting remained a huge problem for Alabama. The Tide was only 5-of-20 from three-point range in the loss at Ole Miss with sophomore G Trevor Releford and freshman G Levi Randolph each going 2-of-6.
Nobody else hit more than one attempt.
For the regular season, the Tide shot only 28.5 percent from long distance, last in the league.
-Ole Miss became just the 12th team in 30 games this season to hit the 60-point mark against Bama.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
-vs. South Carolina, March 8, SEC Tournament, New Orleans
KEY MATCHUPS: G Bruce Ellington scored on a layup with a second left to give South Carolina the 56-54 victory when the teams played in Columbia on Jan. 25. Ellington scored 12 points in the game, but that was his only basket of the second half. F Malik Cooke scored 18 points to lead the Gamecocks.
Considered a lock for the NCAA field for most of the season, the Tide needs at least one victory to solidify its chances for an at-large bid to the 68-team field. Alabama last won the SEC tourney in 1991 and last played in the tourney title game in 2002, losing 61-58 to Mississippi State. The Tide has advanced past the second round only twice since then, the last time last year when it lost to Kentucky 72-58 in the semifinals. If the Tide wins its first-round game over the Gamecocks, it will play Florida in the quarterfinals.
-Freshman G Trevor Lacey, who sprained his ankle against Arkansas on Feb. 23 and has been fighting through the injury ever since, was scoreless in 16 minutes against Ole Miss after scored 10 points in 24 minutes in the previous game against Auburn.
-Junior G Andrew Steele matched his season-high in assists with seven at Ole Miss but also was charged with five turnovers. He scored nine points.
-Freshman F Nick Jacobs had eight rebounds against the Rebels, nearly matching his total of nine for his previous three games after missing the win over Tennessee because of illness.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“It’s one game. It’s in the past. We can’t do anything about it now. We’ve just got to face ahead.” — Junior G Andrew Steele, in the Birmingham News, on Bama’s loss at Ole Miss.