In order to have a chance to play for the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this weekend, Alabama first must avenge a defeat from the title game of the postseason tournament it did make last season.
Coming off a strong performance in their tournament opener, the No. 16 Crimson Tide face Wichita State in the semifinals Friday night in a rematch of last season's NIT championship game.Both snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee last March, Alabama and Wichita State channeled their collective frustration into a run to the finals of the NIT. The Shockers used a key 8-0 second-half spurt to help beat the Tide 66-57 to claim the NIT title.Less than eight months later the two squads meet up in Puerto Rico for a chance to face either Temple or Purdue in Sunday night's tournament championship game.With starters JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford back from last season's NIT runner-up, Alabama (3-0) has a good chance to exact that revenge on the Shockers and kick off its season with a tournament title.Despite Green saddled with foul trouble, Mitchell had 17 points with 11 rebounds and Releford added 10 points as the Crimson Tide used a dominant defensive effort to roll over Maryland 62-42 in Thursday's first round. Alabama held the Terrapins to 20 first-half points and 26.5 percent shooting for the game. The Crimson Tide also outrebounded Maryland 47-29."When you look at the final numbers I think that tells the story and we're excited for the opportunity to compete in the championship bracket," Alabama coach Anthony Grant told the school's official website.Known for their overall defensive strength, the Crimson Tide have held two of their three opponents to fewer than 30.0 percent shooting. North Florida made just 23.2 percent of its shots in a 64-44 loss at Alabama last Friday."They are such a great defensive team. You could see it," Maryland forward Ashton Panky said.Mitchell, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds versus Wichita State in the NIT final, has averaged 15.3 and 10.0 boards through the first three games.Green, who scored 12 points against the Shockers, had 18 in each of the first two games but drew two quick fouls Thursday. The 6-foot-8 senior finished with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting in just 12 minutes.Thanks to its depth and smothering defense, Alabama was able to overcome Green's foul trouble without much of a problem."We are a better team with JaMychal on the floor, but I thought everyone had their minds focused on the game," Grant said. "I'm proud of our guys. We came out with great focus."The Crimson Tide need to maintain that focus in order to top Wichita State (2-0), which shot 45.0 percent and forced 17 turnovers to beat Colorado 67-58 in Thursday's opening round.Toure' Murry and Ben Smith each scored 17 points while 7-footer Garrett Stutz added 14 with 11 rebounds for the Shockers. Stutz had eight points off the bench against Alabama last season.