SEC West unbeatens Alabama, Mississippi State meet


SEC West unbeatens Alabama, Mississippi State meet

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Big games are practically a weekly affair for Nick Saban and Alabama, who have seemingly mastered the accompanying spotlight and pressure.

No. 13 Mississippi State is less accustomed to games like Saturday night's visit to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, where the winner gains the inside track to an SEC West championship and what-ifs could haunt a season.

The Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) are off to their best start since 1999, the only other time the program has opened a season with seven straight wins.

``It's a great opportunity for our guys,'' Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. ``We look at this as a championship-caliber game for us. You get into championship games, you've got to be ready to play for four quarters. There's going to be a lot of potential momentum swings back and forth, back and forth.

``You have to weather the storm of the crowd, weather the storm of all the momentum swings.''

The Tide (7-0, 4-0) seems to have had a stadium-wide umbrella protecting the team from real trouble. Alabama hasn't really been challenged and only Mississippi State rival Mississippi has been ahead of Saban & Co. - for all of 15 seconds.

That consistent dominance, plus two national champions in three years, convinced oddsmakers that this is a mismatch whatever the records indicate. Alabama is a 24-point favorite and has won the last four meetings by a collective 117-27.

Saban disputes any contention that Mississippi State has been anything but a tough win. The Bulldogs did beat his first Tide team, in 2007.

``They always play tough against us,'' Saban said. ``They don't play OK against us, they play good. We struggled as much against them last year as anybody we played against.''

Alabama led only 10-0 going into the fourth quarter of that game a week after a loss to LSU temporarily muted the national title talk. The game ended up 24-7.

Now, a national title game rematch with LSU looms next week in Baton Rouge.

There seems little chance of overlooking the Bulldogs, though.

``This is probably the most complete team they have had since I've been here,'' Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. ``We're not taking them lightly. We're going to come in with the same mindset we've had week in, week out and go after them.''

The Tide's 11-game winning streak isj the nation's longest while Mississippi State has won nine in a row, one behind Oregon.

The teams have plenty of similarities.

Tide quarterback AJ McCarron and Mississippi State's Tyler Russell have been two of the league's most efficient passers with only one interception between them, thrown by Russell.

The game features the SEC's leading rusher, Mississippi State's LaDarius Perkins, and probably the top tailback tandem in `Bama's Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

The defenses are led by two strong secondaries. The Tide's Dee Milliner and Bulldogs' Johnthan Banks are two of the nation's top cornerbacks.

Mississippi State leads the nation in turnover margin and Alabama is tied for third.

Alabama's defense still has a big edge, leading the nation in all the major statistical categories. But the Bulldogs rank ninth nationally in scoring defense.

``They've got a good defensive team, they've got good players, they've got a good offensive team,'' Saban said. ``They've got really good balance, a good quarterback who can throw the ball. They're committed to running it, and do a good job of running it. Their runner leads the league in rushing, so they're a good team all the way around.''

The Tide does have an edge in big-game experience. Alabama is 19-6 against Top 25 teams the past four seasons and has won six of the last seven such games.

``I think the more you listen to Coach Saban talk, and his philosophy on this, the more true they become,'' Alabama center Barrett Jones said. ``It doesn't matter as much about the other team, it's more about you. When you look at the film, as good as the other team is, every time we've lost a game around here it's not because they just did amazing things, it's because we didn't execute.

``I'm not taking away anything from any team that we've ever played, that's just the facts. So you learn to focus on yourself, and being better as a unit on the offensive line, and usually things take care of themselves.''

Mullen, though, has been part of national championship teams as Florida's offensive coordinator, so he's no stranger to the magnitude. He said it was evident that the players' intensity picked up this week.

``You say you want to treat it like any other week, but we're stepping our game up,'' linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. ``We're hyped. We're excited. Just walking around today all the guys have a glow in their eye. They're ready for some action.''


AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Starkville, Miss., contributed to this report.


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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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