Despite the loss, Tide has come a long way

When the final buzzer sounded and Alabama had lost a 51-49 heartbreaker at Utah, the more than 15,000 loud and crazy fans at the Plainsman Center in Salt Lake City got even louder… <br><br>And crazier.

The No. 1 team in the country had just gone down at the hands of an unranked team. Fans stormed the court in a mad frenzy. Utah players went crazy. Some observers said it was the loudest and most intense it had ever been at a Ute home game.

While the celebration took place, Tide players were left wondering what the big deal was.

Erwin Dudley cuts down the nets last season after Bama clinched the regular season SEC title. Fans may still be adjusting to the idea, but Crimson Tide basketball has hit the big time.

Seniors Terrance Meade, Erwin Dudley, and Kenny Walker had all experienced losing before, so it was just another game for Alabama. The only time an opposing crowd had stormed the court was in 2001 when Auburn's Reggie Sharp hit a half-court buzzer beater to defeat the Tide.

"Unfortunately we were No. 1, but we were watching them storm the floor and seeing people out there crying. Even some of their teammates were doing that," center Kenny Walker said. "We were like 'Why are they crying?' Sure, we were No. 1, but people gave us the opportunity to be number one. We didn't really feel like we were all the way there."

"Usually teams win and walk off the floor," he added. "They were out there celebrating. We were like 'Oh well.' We played our hearts out, it just came down to one shot and it was over."

It wasn't just another win for Utah.

To them, they had knocked off the No. 1 team in America. Therefore, storming the court shouldn't have been a surprise.

For Alabama, things have definitely changed. The team that was struggling just to get into the NIT tournament only a few years ago is now contending for high seeds in the NCAA tournament.

"We're a marquee program," forward Erwin Dudley said. "What team wouldn't storm the court? If we weren't a ranked team, I'm sure we'd do the same thing. I can understand it."

Count senior guard Terrance Meade as another player who wasn't surprised by the post-game celebration. But he also noted how far the program has risen since he arrived on campus.

"I knew it was gonna happen," Meade said. "We were top ranked and they weren't ranked. It wasn't a surprise. No one has ever stormed the court against us, except when Auburn beat us on a half court shot.

"It shows that the program has really come a long way."

Shown fighting for position under the basket, Kenny Walker watched the Utah players cry after last week's game in which the home-standing Utes knocked off Bama by two points. (Associated Press)

The Tide must rebound from the loss quickly, as Xavier comes to town for a 4 p.m. Saturday match-up. This game has been billed as the top home non-conference showdown for the Tide. And even though Xavier has losses to Stanford and Mississippi State, there will still be a great deal of intensity for the game, which is expected to be a sellout.

The Musketeers (9-2) are led by forward David West (19.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and guard Romain Sato (15.3 ppg, 7.7 ppg). Xavier will be without the services of point guard Lionel Chalmers, who suffered a broken foot in the victory over Creighton.

The Tide will still be ranked No. 1 for this game, but will almost certainly drop when the new rankings are released next week. That, however, won't bother Tide players. Even if they don't return there during the regular season.

"It's always a goal to be number one, but we're not going to pressure ourselves with it," Meade said. "We'd rather be there at the end of the season and not at the beginning or middle."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a Crimson Ticket story, available only to subscribers. But this week all website content, including the entire network, is free of charge.

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