NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Alabama's NCAA Tournament hopes are still alive.
Thanks to a 58-48 win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Tournament Quarterfinals Friday afternoon, the Crimson Tide (21-11) will live to play another game of basketball.
Alabama tips off against Florida in a semifinal game Saturday at noon CT on ABC.
Alabama and Tennessee (20-12) put on a bubblicious show. Intensity and physicality were flowing with hints of desperation, as a loss would almost certainly pop one team's chances of continuing its season. Much of that was also a product of the teams' regular season meetings. They split two games in January, each winning close ones at home.
"Both of those games were down to the wire so we understood what would be required today," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We had so many games like this over course of the season so we were prepared."
So many different players put in significant minutes for Alabama. Levi Randolph and Trevor Releford combined to score half (29) of the Tide's total points. Randolph scored eight of his 15 in the second half, which kept Alabama in control.
Alabama's bench outscored Tennessee's 17-7. Nick Jacobs, who didn't play in either of the previous games against UT this season due to back spasms, had his best defensive outing of the year, leading the Tide with 12 rebounds. He was also important offensively, adding six points, including a key jump shot with nine minutes left that gave the Tide a 9-point lead, their biggest edge of the game at that point.
Retin Obasohan came out hot, scoring seven of his nine points in the final six minutes of the first half. He also had a block and a steal.
"We got great efforts out of everybody that went on the court today," Grant said. "We talked [before the game] about the experiences that we've gained over the course of the season and what we needed to do from a scouting report standpoint and a preparation standpoint, and I thought we had everybody."
In the regular season matchups, Tennessee outrebounded Alabama by an average of 15 boards per game. Though UT still had the rebounding edge Friday, the Tide was much more aggressive. This time, the Vols only won that battle by a margin of two (37-35).
Much of that success came from Alabama playing a zone defense and getting rebounds off many of Tennessee's missed 3-pointers (UT went 5-23 from the perimeter).
"That's one of the things we talked about in the scouting report," said Randolph, who had five rebounds. "When they take shots, to make sure we find [Jarnell Stokes] and block out because he's great at offensive rebounding. You know, we had guys step up and get the big rebounds when we needed them."
Stokes was still able to record a double-double, scoring 12 points and getting 13 rebounds (eight offensive), but Alabama wanted to make him work for his stats.
"He's a load down their in the post," Grant said. "I thought the zone helped some with that, but you know, it was just a matter of stepping up and competing like we're capable of competing, and I thought we did that."
The game started with a 3-pointer from Releford and Alabama went on to take an 8-4 lead. Tennessee responded with a 9-0 run, but the Tide came back with a 10-2 run of their own to take a 18-17 lead with 8:02 remaining in the first half. The Tide led 31-27 at the break.
In the second half, Jacobs had a jumper with 9:01 left to give Alabama its largest lead of the game at 50-41. Tennessee was resilient and fought back to within four, but the Vols missed shots down the stretch while Alabama made free throws to seal the victory.
Andrew Steele, who has a stress fracture in his right ankle, wore his Alabama sweat suit with a boot on his foot and cheered his team on from the bench.
Now Alabama must play Florida (25-6), who beat LSU 80-58 in the first game Friday. The Tide lost to the Gators just two weeks ago in Gainesville, 64-52.
"Obviously we knew we'd have to play a very good team," said Grant, who is a former UF assistant under head coach Billy Donavan. "Florida is a very good team. So it's just a matter of getting prepared for the turnaround and getting ready for tomorrow."
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