Alabama Reaches NIT Title Game

NEW YORK -- It was billed as Alabama defense vs. Colorado offense. It was also noted as a game of two teams that thought they should have been in the NCAA Tournament. In a game of National Invitation Tournament number one seeds, the Crimson Tide took a dramatic 62-61 NIT semifinals win over the Buffaloes in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.

Alabama freshman point guard Trevor Releford is ordinarily the man who throws the ball in when Bama has an inbounds play from under its goal. But with 12.5 seconds to play, the ball was throw in to Releford in front of the Alabama bench. Releford then drove the baseline and made a tough layup with 10 seconds to play, giving the Crimson Tide its fifth and final lead of the game.

Colorado went to its ace, Alec Burks, for a long, last-second shot at victory, but the ball came off the rim and Alabama had moved into the finals on the NIT Championship.

In the first game, Wichita State (28-8) shocked Washington State, 75-44, to advance to the Thursday championship game (7 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. central) with national television coverage by ESPN2.

Alabama had a 10-point lead when junior Tide post player JaMychal Green hit two quick shots to start the second half. The good news was that Green was outstanding when he was on the court. The bad news was that he was on the court only 26 minutes because of foul problems. He fouled out with 2:27 to play and Bama leading by three. A half minute later the Buffaloes had the lead at 61-60.

Bama would get only one more basket, but Colorado would get no more. In fact, the Buffs scored only one basket and two free throws in the final six minutes.

There were five ties and nine lead changes in the game.

Although basketball scoring is thought of as making two-point shots, Colorado was making threes and ones. Bama held the Buffs to only 40 per cent field goal shooting (20-50). Colorado made 8-25 three-point shots and 13-15 free throws. Alabama made eight more field goals, 28-56 for 50 per cent, though making only 2-8 on three-pointers. Bama's big problem continues to be the late-season free throw shooting woes. Alabama was only 4-11.

Alabama has been very good in scoring in the paint, and that was key for the Tide against Colorado as Bama had a 42-16 lead on close-in shots.

Alabama was also uncharacteristically careless in guarding Colorado three-point shots, particularly by Levi Knutson, who had four treys and scored 11 consecutive points for the Buffs at one point.

Alabama got 22 points and five rebounds from Green in his 26 minutes on the court. Releford had 13 points, six assists, and four steals for the Tide. Chris Hines had eight points, eight rebounds, and three steals. Tony Mitchell had eight points and five rebounds.

Colorado was led by Burks with 20 points, Knutson with 14, and Cory Higgins with 13.

Alabama improved to 25-11 on the season. Colorado's season ended at 24-14.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "It's a great win for our team. We are excited about the opportunity to compete for a championship. You have to obviously give Colorado credit. They are a great team and we knew in the second half they would have a lot of fight in them. I thought in the first half we set the tone and the second half they did. They went on a couple of runs that we had to answer and thankfully, we had guys that stepped up, persevered, and made the plays that we needed to make to win the game."

Alabama had the lead for most of the first half, including having a 36-30 lead at intermission. It was primarily good defense -- no surprise there, except that it was mostly zone defense, which was the story most of the game -- that put the Tide in front of the usually high-scoring Buffaloes.

Alabama also shot well in the second half, getting many more opportunities in the paint.

Bama had its runs in the first half. After Colorado scored the opening basket, Bama went on a 10-point run, including Trevor Releford scoring two baskets in a matter of seconds -- a coast-to-coast layup, then stealing the inbounds pass for another layup that gave the Tide its first lead at 7-5.

After extending the 12-5 lead to 13-7, Bama watched Colorado run off 10 straight points for a 17-13 advantage.

Chris Hines and JaMychal Green made short shots to tie the game at 17, and then Green slammed one home on a nice assist from Senario Hillman.

Releford had a drive to complete an eight-point run and the Tide led 21-17.

Tony Mitchell started a seven-point run with a trey and a putback and an inside basket by Hines made it 28-19 with Alabama having outscored the Buffs, 15-2.

Colorado scored eight free throws in the final three minutes, including four in the final five seconds. Releford offset half of that with a coast-to-coast drive and layup in between Colorado free throws.

At the half, Green had a dozen points, Releford 9, and Mitchell 8.

NOTES: Alabama's starting lineup was Trevor Releford at point guard, Charvez Davis and Tony Mitchell on the wings, Chris Hines at the high post, and JaMychal Green at the low post.

This is Alabama's 11th NIT appearance, but the Tide has never won the championship and has made only one trip to the title game.

Alabama athletics has always been noted for tradition. Stars of the past were in attendance atMadison Square Garden supporting the next generation.

Wendell Hudson, currently the Crimson Tide's women's basketball coach, made his way to the Big Apple's NIT. Hudson, was a legendary pioneer as the first African-American scholarshipped athlete in any sport at The Capstone. An All-America and SEC's MVP in 1972-73, he led Alabama to its inaugural NIT appearance.

Marty Lyons, former University of Alabama 1978 All-America defensive lineman and member of the famed New York Jets Sack Exchange,lives in the Greater New York area.

Ennis "Enimo" Whatley, the 1983 All-America point guard extraordinaire and NBA veteran, traveled from Maryland to root onthe Crimson Tide.

Tony Johnson, tight end for the 1992 National Championship team, lives on Long Island.

ESPN college basketball host and Alabama graduate Rece Davis was among the crimson contingent cheering his alma mater.

Hudson and wife Belinda sauntered down the steps to find their second row seats in basketball's Mecca behind the Buffaloes bench. Sitting in the adjoining section one row below with a big smile waving was NIT Selection Committee Chair C.M. Newton - a fitting moment for the two men who rejuvenated the program leading the Crimson Tide to the first ever post season tournament in school history thirty-eight years ago. Newton, who lives in Tuscaloosa, is chairman of the NIT.

Big Al, the pep band, cheerleaders and the Crimson Cabaret celebrated the semifinal victory over the Big 12 Colorado Buffaloes.

NBA personnel spotted included Detroit Piston President Joe Dumars, scouts Kevin Stacom of the Dallas Mavericks and Bob Zuffelato of the Toronto Raptors, who were among the nine NBA franchises represented.

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