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January 25, 2013

Tide lighting it up in the second half

TUSCALOOSA | If you are an Alabama basketball fan watching this afternoon's game between the Crimson Tide and Tennessee, the first half could possibly not be to your liking.

But don't switch channels quickly.

Alabama has won four straight Southeastern Conference games heading into today's game. It trailed at halftime in three of those games. In the other, a win at Mississippi State, UA turned a relatively close game at the half into a second-half blowout.

Over the four-game stretch, Alabama has been outscored 109-93 in the first half, only to come back and outscore the opposition 159-103 in the second.

What makes the Crimson Tide such late bloomers?

"We don't give up," said UA forward Andrew Steele, whose entire career, frequently interrupted by injury and apparently over at least once because of a concussion, is a mirror of that philosophy.

Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant isn't given to slogans and catchphrases but has frequently repeated one thought to this team.

"Stay the course," point guard Trevor Releford said. "That's what he is always telling us. It is a 40-minute game, not a 20-minute game. So he tells us to stay the course, keep playing on every possession."

Grant said after Tuesday night's win over Kentucky that it isn't fiery halftime speeches that ignite the Crimson Tide.

"You have a feeling about when to do that and I have done it before," Grant said. "But against Texas A&M, I thought our effort was good. We just needed to play better. Against Kentucky, I thought we got caught up in the emotions, the big crowd, and just needed to calm down."

One of the comebacks came against Tennessee, when the Crimson Tide overcame a 28-24 halftime deficit to take a 68-65 win. Heading into today's rematch, Alabama is streaking and Tennessee is slumping, but Grant is wary.

"We are dealing with a team that, for want of a better cliche, is a wounded animal," Grant said. "Plus, based on yesterday's practice, we aren't handling (the win over Kentucky) very well. So we've got to be able to look at the situation and understand what we are walking into against a very talented team."

Tennessee is a three-point favorite in today's game, even though the Crimson Tide has not lost in Knoxville since 2007.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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