Alabama makes its NCAA case with rally

ATLANTA -- With the score tied at 53 in the final seconds of regulation in Friday’s quarterfinals game of the SEC tournament, Alabama forward Chris Hines saw the basketball leave Georgia guard Dustin Ware’s hands.

“I was right in the middle of the paint and saw it coming down,” Hines said.

Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs coach Mark Fox called timeout just before Ware launched a running 3-pointer. Ware’s shot banked in, but officials waved it off with 0.8 seconds to play in regulation.

“Thank God their coach called timeout,” Hines said. “That would have been very painful to watch.”

Instead, the ending was very painful for Georgia, which blew a 13-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation and lost 65-59 in overtime. Alabama beat the Bulldogs for the second time in seven days, after handing them a 65-57 loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the March 5 regular-season finale.

Bama advanced to play the winner of Friday’s quarterfinals game between Kentucky and Ole Miss in Saturday’s semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

The SEC West champion Crimson Tide might have needed this victory more than UGA in terms of receiving an NCAA at-large bid. Unless the Tide win the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA berth that comes with it, both teams now figure to be anxious on Selection Sunday.

“We’ve been hearing we needed one or two more [wins] to get into the NCAAs,” Alabama forward JaMychal Green said. “Hopefully, we’re in now.”

As Hines ran to Alabama’s locker room, he shouted: “You see that, Joe Lunardi?”

Afterward, Hines playfully criticized ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi, who had the Crimson Tide among his first four teams out of the NCAAs entering Friday’s action.

“Thanks for having our backs, Joe Lunardi,” Hines said. “Thanks for having my back, ESPN. It seems like every time we win a game, he moves us farther back. We’re just not going to stop until we’re automatic qualifiers and they can’t keep us out.”

Much to the delight of Hines we’re certain, Lunardi sent an update at 5:30 ET that had the Crimson Tide as the last team in his projected field.

At least Hines knows the NCAA selection committee might have a difficult time including Georgia in the field without including the Crimson Tide.

Entering Friday’s game, UGA’s RPI rating (No. 39 nationally) was more than twice as good as Alabama’s (No. 84). And the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule rating (No. 42) was much better than the Tide’s (No. 153).

“I think that we are a tournament team,” Fox said. “If I don’t call that timeout and the ball goes in, you know, you don’t get to ask that question. That’s how close it is. But this team, I think, they have put themselves in a position to get serious consideration.”

So has Alabama, thanks to its big comeback at the Dome.

“This is the kind of team we’ve been all year,” Hines said. “We scrap and fight and don’t quit.”

The Tide will get to fight for 40 minutes more on Saturday.