Tennessee Rips Bama At SEC Tourney

TAMPA, Fla. -- There were no miracles for Alabama's basketball team. The Crimson Tide seemed to sense its fate in the second half as Tennessee went on a 17-0 run against token opposition. The final result was an 86-62 loss that eliminated Bama from the Southeastern Conference Tournament and probably ended the Tide season.

Alabama had defeated Tennessee in Knoxville in the final game of regular season play last Sunday. The Vols exacted revenge. Tennessee came out ready to play. From the opening dunk by J.P. Prince off a steal, the tone of the game was set. One statistic tells much of the story: there were no lead changes. With 3:55 to play Alabama trailed by 27 points.

From the opening tap, Tennessee was in a man-to-man pressure defense that frustrated the Tide's efforts to find penetration in the middle. And on those rare occasions when Bama did get near the basket, Tennessee contested the shots. That led to impatient offensive execution and ill-advised quick perimeter shots.

Philip Pearson, who finished the Alabama season as interim coach after The University demanded a resignation from Mark Gottfried, said, "As a result of their pressure I didn't think we were able to get into any flow offensively that we have in some other games. For example, last night I thought Mikhail (point guard Mikhail Torrance) was great with the ball screen. But tonight Tennessee did a much better job of defending that."

What little success the 2008-09 Alabama basketball team had was a result of what Pearson called "sharing the ball" and being "unselfish." That was out the window in the final game. The previous season low of five assists against Oregon was surpassed as the constant harassment inside and out resulted in just two assists each half. Tennessee's 20 assists to 10 turnover ratio magnified the ease of their offensive production compared to Alabama's 18 turnovers to four aassists.

Alabama shot 36.7 per cent for the game on 22 of 60, including a poor 21.1 per cent (4-19) from the three-point line. Tennessee unsuccessfully launched 20 three pointers out of 24. Had the Vols been hitting from outside, it might have been a record defeat for Bama. Tennessee made up for its outside weakness (16.7 per cent on treys) with overwhelming inside success. The Vols hit 35-72 from the field, 48.6 per cent.

Shredding the interior Bama zone with crisp passing and penetration for 60 points inside the paint, Tennessee waltzed all over Alabama's defense for 12 dunks, 14 lay-ups, and 2 tip-ins. Alabama, which had been strong in the paint in an opening game win over Vanderbilt, had only 28 points in the paint.

Pearson said, "We felt like the way to defend them was with the zone. We were better geared to defend them in that manner. Whether we were man or zone, it felt like the key to the game from a defensive standpoint outside of transition defense would be our ability to contain the dribble or contain the ball.

"They were able to get too many penetrating opportunities that led to easy baskets, easy shots in the paint. They made a few jumpers off the penetration. I thought that was real key for them."

Tennessee had three scorers with double figures as Tyler Smith led the way with 20 points followed by Chism and Prince with 14 and 13. A fast-break edge of 20-2 favoring the Vols indicates the easy opportunities that contributed to the blowout victory. Alabama trailed by 43-32 at halftime with a glimmer of hope but the outcome was inevitable with the second half drought as the Tide scored their first points at the 13:30 mark on two free throws by Andrew Steele to make the score 60-34. Nineteen points was the closest Alabama would narrow the gap several times in the second half.

Torrance led the Tide with 13 points on 4-11 shooting and one free throw. JaMychal Green had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Senior Alonzo Gee, a two-time second team All-SEC performer, more than likely finished his career with a 12-point output on 4-11 shooting and perfect 4-4 from the foul line. "I learned a lot," he said. "Coach Pearson helped me out a lot, just to stay focused and stay mentally and physically ready for everything I do in practice and games."

Beginning the season as the school's 36th all-time scoring leader, Gee has climbed to 11th on the list.

Pearson reflected on his interim role. "It has been a unique experience," he said. "It will probably take a few days for this all to sink in. I'm very proud of the way our players have performed. When this whole thing happened and we had three out of four on the road to start with, and three difficult games. We were in a game or two there that we lost early on. We had the tough loss at home with South Carolina. I just am real proud of the way our guys hung in there with our coaching staff and with each other. I felt like we had a really good finish to the year. I was very proud of that. We had some good wins in there. I thought we played some very good basketball down the stretch."

It remains to be seen if this loss, the worst postseason defeat in a decade, marks the end of the 2008-09 Alabama (18-14) basketball season. An NIT bid--considered highly unlikely--would be accepted according to Alabama officials. NIT bids go out Sunday night after NCAA Tournament selections.

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