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March 9, 2013

Releford's half-court shot wins it for Alabama

TUSCALOOSA | After a day of celebrating the number 100, the biggest celebration of all came from 50.

That was the approximate distance in feet of one of the most dramatic game-winning shots in Alabama's 100-year history, a nothing-but-net 3-pointer by Trevor Releford that gave Alabama an intense 61-58 win over Georgia at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday.

The win capped an unbeaten conference home season for the Crimson Tide and gave Alabama a double-bye in the 14-team SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

Alabama will play at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon against an opponent to be determined, although No. 5 seed Tennessee will be the likeliest team to emerge in the UA bracket.

"I thought it had a chance when it left his hand but I wasn't sure," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "It was sort of slow motion for me. Was it good? Yes, it was good. Then we had to check, did he get it off on time? Yes, it got it off in time. It was a big shot and a great ending."

It was nearly the polar opposite - an atrocious ending - for Alabama, which led by as many as 17 points in the first half and still led by five, 58-53, with 1:01 to play.

At that point, Releford missed a foul shot - he had made the first of two - and Georgia raced down the floor with Charles Mann driving for a layup and drawing a foul with 56 seconds to go.

Mann missed his free throw but Nemanja Djurisic rebounded the miss and found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a 3-pointer that tied the game with 47 seconds to play.

On Alabama's ensuing possession, Caldwell-Pope knocked the ball loose from Trevor Lacey and Mann grabbed the loose ball, giving Georgia a chance at the winning shot.

Mann drove to the bucket with about five seconds remaining, crashed into the Crimson Tide's Nick Jacobs and lost control of the basketball. Rodney Cooper scooped up the loose ball and flipped it to Releford, who took two dribbles, then launched the shot from behind halfcourt.

"I knew it was on target," said Releford, who led all scorers with 19 points. "I thought it might be short. But I have never had a game-winner like that before."

The shot was a tough blow for Georgia (15-16, 9-9 SEC) after a strong second-half comeback.

We went to the basket at a time where we didn't think they could get a shot off if we missed," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "A halfcourt shot was all they could get. The kid took one or two dribbles and threw it in.

"I didn't think we were going to overtime. I thought we were going to win in regulation, and we lost. So that didn't feel very good."

Georgia rallied despite a strong start by UA, which led 32-18 at the half.

"I don't think the team started fighting until we got punched in the teeth five times," Fox said. "After that, I was pleased with the way we responded."

"In the first half we really locked in defensively," Grant said. "In the second half, we struggled against the zone. We had some breakdowns and Georgia took advantage."

It only set the stage for the late dramatics for Alabama (20-11, 12-6 SEC).

"It was great presence of mind by Relly to know he had time for a couple of dribbles," Grant said. "I can't remember a shot like that to win a game in my career."

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




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