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March 15, 2013

Alabama basketball cools off Vols at SEC Tournament

NASHVILLE | Don't ask Anthony Grant about his team's chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

He won't entertain it. He's more interested in earning an automatic berth to the Big Dance by punching a ticket via a Southeastern Conference Tournament title come Sunday.

He's two wins away.

With a ferocious defensive effort, Alabama put the clamps on Tennessee, holding the Volunteers to their worst offensive output in months with a 58-48 win in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

Alabama (21-11) plays Florida today at noon. Tennessee falls to 20-12. Both teams currently reside on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but right now we're in the SEC Tournament and we play Florida (today) for a chance to advance and play for a tournament championship," Grant said when pressed on his team's NCAA Tournament chances. "That's just where we are right now. That's all that really matters. Nothing else matters."

The Volunteers entered winners in nine of their previous 10 games. But a full-court press by Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper combined with a swarming zone defense kept Tennessee big man Jarnell Stokes from dominating and the Volunteer offense sputtered.

Tennessee took 23 3-point shots and made just five.

"That's one of the things we talked about in scouting report. When they take shots, to make sure we find (Stokes) and block out because he's great at offensive rebounding," Randolph said. " You know, we had guys step up and get the big rebounds when we needed them."

It was Tennessee's fourth-lowest point total of the season, and the 21st time Alabama held an opponent to less than 60 points, including 14 of the previous 17 games.

Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds in 25 minutes and added six points and three blocks.

Junior point guard Trevor Releford paced the offense with his ball control, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first half. Randolph scored a team-high 15 points.

Retin Obasohan sparked the team off the bench with nine points, part of Alabama's 17-7 advantage in bench points.

Releford echoed Grant's sentiments regarding the NCAA Tournament.

"I think we're looking at each game is a great opportunity to get closer to a championship and not necessarily worrying about the NCAA Tournament, because we know we take care of what we need to take care of here, then, I mean, we get a championship, it will be automatic," Releford said. "We're worrying about one game at a time and doing that."

To do that UA will have to beat the SEC regular-season champion Florida Gators, which defeated LSU 80-58 earlier Friday.

"They're a very good shooting team," Grant said. "They have been all year. We'll get together today. We just finished this game right now, so we'll get prepared for Florida here today and be ready to go tomorrow."

Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.



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