5:00 PM ET, January 4, 2003
Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama pronounced itself ready to defend its Southeastern Conference title, and defending is what the Crimson Tide does best.Erwin Dudley and Antoine Pettway each made two free throws in the final 22 seconds as Alabama (10-1; No. 3 ESPN/USA Today; No. 1 Associated Press) withstood a late charge to beat No. 19 Xavier 65-58 on Saturday for its 26th consecutive home victory. ''This was a big win for us, however you look at it,'' said Mo Williams, who had 17 points. ''This season's over with. The second season starts Wednesday.'' That's when the Tide opens league play against Arkansas. Alabama didn't improve its shooting much from the 51-49 defeat Monday at Utah, but scored 26 points off 19 turnovers. Dudley had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Pettway provided a big spark off the bench with five steals and five assists. Alabama shot 41.8 percent from the field but held the Musketeers (9-3) to 38.5 percent shooting and didn't allow preseason All-America forward David West to score in the second half. ''They believe in their defense,'' Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. ''They feel like they can get shutouts when they need to. ''It's probably been the most consistent thing for us this year.'' Romain Sato had 17 of his 20 points in the second half for Xavier, despite picking up his fourth foul with 9:31 left. West, who played 40 minutes, had all of his 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half. ''I knew he was looking to score and I had to shut him down,'' Dudley said. ''I had to just stay in front of him and contain him.'' Dudley also was a preseason All-America at forward. The Musketeers, playing without injured guard Lionel Chalmers, couldn't quite summon their old magic after winning two of three meetings with No. 1 teams since the 1995-96 season. ''I think they're a great basketball team,'' Xavier coach Thad Matta said. ''They've got tremendous depth. They've got a great system. The players know what they're trying to do. ''The one thing you don't hear a lot about Alabama is their defense.'' The Tide hadn't played a ranked opponent since beating Oklahoma in the season opener. Williams sliced into the lane to give Alabama a 60-47 lead with seven minutes to play. Sato answered with a layup to spark a 10-0 run. Pettway and Xavier's Keith Jackson both made one of two free throws, then Alabama missed a couple of shots. West got trapped inside and fouled Dudley inside trying to get loose with 31 seconds left, giving the Tide the ball again. Pettway made two free throws with 22 seconds left and Dudley added two more 11 seconds later to extend the Tide's school-record home winning streak. Williams wasn't surprised at Pettway's contributions. ''That's Antoine Pettway. That's an everyday thing. It doesn't even excite me anymore. I expect that out of him now,'' Williams said. It was Alabama's first sellout of the season, drawing about 5,000 more fans than any of the previous six games at Coleman Coliseum this season. ''I don't think we'll play in a tougher environment all year,'' said West, who had six turnovers. ''It got pretty loud, and there was an element of being in a big game.'' The teams traded big runs in the first half. Alabama trailed by as many as five points early and struggled to get the ball inside or make outside shots. But Williams and Dudley each made two free throws to spark a 21-2 run for a 30-16 lead with 7:22 left. The Musketeers went 12 consecutive possessions without scoring, then scored 13 consecutive points, capped by Dedrick Finn's jumper. Williams hit a 3-pointer and Dudley made an open layup for a 35-29 lead late. West hit a pullup jumper and free throw with 5.4 seconds left. Williams missed a layup at the buzzer to keep the Tide's lead at 35-32. Alabama and Xavier hadn't met since the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament, when Gottfried was a junior guard. The Tide won that game 97-80 and reached the third round. Williams said he thinks they could be destined for a postseason rematch. ''They're a real good team and they're going to go a long way in the (NCAA) tournament,'' he said. ''We might see them again.''
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