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March 15, 2013TUSCALOOSA | Anthony Grant has a mission for his University of Alabama basketball team: raise the level of play in the postseason.
He has seen it happen before.
"The first year we won the national championship at Florida, we went 10-6 in the SEC," said Grant, who was an assistant to Billy Donovan on that 2006 Gators squad. "I am not saying that was bad, but it wasn't the level we felt we needed to be. But we got into the SEC Tournament and then the NCAAs and it was a different level of intensity. They wanted to compete for championships. That is what you want from your team."
Alabama's circumstances are different as the Crimson Tide opens SEC Tournament play this afternoon in Nashville, Tenn. There is no guaranteed NCAA berth. The NCAA selection committee would likely file 20-11 Alabama's resume in the "not bad but not good enough" file even if UA was to win two games and advance to Sunday's SEC final.
"The only way we control what happens to us is to win the tournament, so that is our goal," Grant said.
The key to that, according to the coach, is consistency.
"Obviously, we learned a lot about ourselves over the course of the SEC season," Grant said. "We learned things that allowed us to win and we learned what we need to do better to put us in a position to win every night."
Alabama has one advantage going into the tournament, aside from the momentum of a buzzer-beating win against Georgia in last week's regular-season finale.
"We've had 17 games out of 31 that we have played which have come down to the last four minutes, and the majority of them down to the last couple of possessions of the game," Grant said. "On one hand, you look and you say we are 11-6 in those games, which is a good thing. I think the experience you get in those games is invaluable for your team. On the other hand, you look and see some things that are repetitive in terms of things that we've done in November and December that are still kind of here in February and March.
"The freshmen are now sophomores, it's a new season, and sophomores are now juniors and so on," he said. "The expectation is that we learn from that. I think everybody on our team should be excited as we move forward."
The added maturity is critical as the team's lone senior, Andrew Steele, remains questionable for the postseason due to a stress fracture in his ankle.
Alabama has won its first SEC Tournament game and lost its second in each of Grant's three seasons as head coach.