'Bama guard missing a win

Published February 5, 2005

GAINESVILLE - Earnest Shelton is feeling extra motivation today, although it's not like he has anything to prove.

He's in the middle of his senior season, playing on a team that has won 17 games (six straight) and is sitting atop the SEC West. He's also half of a prolific scoring duo, described by teammates and opponents as the perfect complement on Alabama's basketball team.

Shelton has never won in Gainesville.

When No. 11 Alabama plays Florida today at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Shelton knows this is his last shot and he plans to make the most of it.

"It's motivation for me because they are a good team," Shelton said. "I enjoy it there, unfortunately I haven't won there yet, but it's a fun atmosphere. The fans are right up on you, they are loud, they are into the game and it's a real fun place to play.

"It's one of those games that if you're not motivated and you're not pumped to play, then it's not in you."

Shelton and teammate Kennedy Winston have combined a competitive nature with athleticism and talent to form the heart of the Tide team. Winston is averaging 17.8 points, third in the SEC. Shelton's 17.4 is sixth in the league, aiding a team ranking of No. 22 in the nation in scoring.

"I think we complement each other very well," Shelton said. "Ken's a great penetrator and he runs the court great, he's a great finisher and slasher. I run the court with him, I'm a great shooter, I try to set it up where we run stuff to get him shots and we run stuff to get me shots. And we just complement each other. There's not many teams that have three really good wing players, a good point guard that does a good job finding us and it's just fun to play with him."

Winston, the 6-foot-6 junior who is one of 30 Wooden Award candidates this season, has scored 134 in the past seven games, a 19.1 average. He began his rise to one of the best in the league last season. The Tide advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, an experience he believes has been invaluable this season.

"I know how to win and what it takes to win in tough games," Winston said. "Down the stretch we played a lot of good teams and that taught me how to win, how to execute and how to guard guys and that's what's helping this year."

Ironically, with all their offensive production, it is Shelton and Winston's improved attention to defense that has impressed coach Mark Gottfried. Alabama is fourth in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 40 percent shooting.

"Obviously they are scoring, but I think more than anything they've done a good job defending," Gottfried said. "Since the first of the year they've made a much better commitment to guard people and that's probably helped us more than anything. They complement one another the way that they score and both are very good players."

Shelton and Kennedy credit the players around them as critical to their success. Freshman point guard Ronald Steele is third in the league in assists (5.15). Junior forward Chuck Davis (13.9, 7.1 rebounds) and sophomore center Jermareo Davidson (8.5, 8.6) also help open things up for Winston and Shelton.

After graduating in December with a degree in management, Shelton said he has been able to focus more on basketball and on being a leader.

"I think he has stepped his game up," Gottfried said. "He had a couple of games (in late December and early January) when we went on the road against Wisconsin and Vanderbilt where he didn't play well. From that point forward he has been terrific every night."

If he has his way, Shelton will be just good enough to finally earn that win over Florida on the Gators' homecourt.