NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All Tennessee can do now is sit and wait for Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show.
It will be an agonizing wait for the Vols, who sit ever so precariously on the proverbial bubble.
But while the Vols wait, Alabama plays on after slugging out a 58-48 victory Friday over cold-shooting Tennessee to move into the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday against top-seeded Florida at Bridgestone Arena.
“We didn’t come into this tournament worrying about what we had to do to get into the NCAA tournament,” said Alabama junior guard Trevor Releford, who scored 14 points and got the best of his Tennessee counterpart, Trae Golden, who was held to two points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“All we control is what we do here, and then it’s automatic if we win [the SEC tournament]. We don’t have to worry about anybody giving us a bid. We’re not going to settle. We just wanted to come out and win basketball games.”
The Crimson Tide (21-11) needed to do just that to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Simply beating Tennessee wasn’t going to be enough. But taking down Florida on Saturday could make things interesting when the bids go out on Sunday.
“The only thing we were worried about was what was right in front of us,” Releford said. “That’s winning this championship.”
Alabama was among the “next four out” in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projection of the NCAA tournament field. Tennessee was among the “last four in” heading into Friday's game.
But whereas Alabama played with a sense of urgency -- and held steady when Tennessee made a mini run to pull within four points with 5:27 to play -- the Vols played tight and looked a little leg-weary in the second half. They also jacked up 23 3-point shots and made just five.
The Crimson Tide pressed most of the game and dropped back into a zone defense that gave the Vols fits. Jordan McRae, who had been brilliant down the regular-season stretch for Tennessee, was held to nine points and shot just 3-of-13 from the field.
Combined, Golden and McRae shot 4-of-20 from the field. Josh Richardson led the Vols with 16 points.
“They did a good job of pressuring the ball the whole game, and shots were hard to come by,” Richardson said.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said following the 64-62 win over Missouri to close the regular season that he thought the Vols had done enough to get into the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for his Vols (20-12), he won't be the one making the call.
He reiterated his belief Friday that he felt like Tennessee was an NCAA tournament team and added that it would be an “insult” to the SEC if the league didn’t get more than four teams in the field.
Either way, it’s going to be close. It probably helped Tennessee that both Virginia and LaSalle, two other bubble teams, lost Friday in their conference tournaments. The Vols also wouldn’t mind if Kentucky and Ole Miss both lost later Friday night in their SEC tournament games.
Alabama had even more work to do than Tennessee entering the SEC tournament, which made Friday’s contest as must-win as a must-win game could be.
The Crimson Tide don’t own a lot of marquee wins this season, and that makes Saturday’s shot at the Gators crucial.
“When you’re at this point in the season, they all count the same,” Releford said. “You better play every game like it's your last.”