CATEGORY: Basketball

AUTHOR: PARRIS

MISS. TEAMS WANT TO KEEP EDGE IN ALABAMA SERIES

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

There was a bit of sweat on the brow of Doug Fowler in March as he watched a loosely organized practice session of the Mississippi girls all-star basketball team.

Fowler, the executive director of the Mississippi Association of Coaches, wanted assurance his state's team would be ready for the Alabama game come June.

"I assured him we'd be ready," said Oxford coach Jeff Nelson, who, along with Meridian High School's Donald Shirley, will lead the Mississippi team against the Alabama all-stars at 1 p.m. today at Mississippi College in Clinton.

"Mr. Fowler acted like we were wasting a little time. I picked at him about it a little bit, but they made it pretty clear they want us to win. We got that understanding pretty quick."

Mississippi lost last year's game 80-77 at the University of North Alabama. Tupelo's Tamika Whitmore, now at the University of Memphis, scored 19 points and was named the game's MVP. Alabama's win, however, enabled it to draw within a game of tying the series. Mississippi's girls lead 3-2 in a series which began in 1991.

It's the job of Shirley and Nelson, who coached Oxford's Lady Chargers to the 4A state championship this season, to keep Alabama from drawing even.

"We want to have fun, but we want to win, too," Nelson said. "When it comes time to throw it up, we don't want to be on the losing side when the horn blows."

Scouting reports are difficult to come by in a game like this, and Nelson is eager to see how Mississippi's quick and athletic team compares to Alabama.

"If they've got a bona-fide Division I post player, a 6-2 or so, we may have problems guarding them," he said. "We're going to rely more on running up and down the floor, pressing and creating a full-court game."

Mississippi's offense will likely center on Harrison Central's Tiffany Travis, a 5-11 forward who averaged 28 points and 10 rebounds, and West Tallahatchie's Stephanie Murphy, a 5-11 forward who averaged 26.3 points and 13.7 rebounds.

Northeast Mississippi has two entries on the roster, Oxford's Nicki Johnson (12 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Alcorn Central's Tiffany Sitton (14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Both were Daily Journal All-Area selections.

"Murphy and Travis are very hard to match up with in a half-court game," Nelson said. "A guard that's quick enough to guard them is not going to be as big as them. Then we could post them up. If there's someone big enough to handle them we can pop them out on the wing.

"(Alabama) will have a hard time finding someone big and quick enough to control those two."

Boys game: The boy's game follows the girls at approximately 3 p.m. Mississippi lost the 1995 game 83-69 but, like the girls, leads the series 3-2. There are no Northeast Mississippi players on the roster.

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