BUBBLE WATCH: Alabama takes another step toward the NCAAs
By JOHN KEKIS | AP Sports Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Alabama's Collin Sexton had one thing to say after another amazing performance: ''Don't count us out.''
Those were the first words out of the star freshman's mouth on Friday after the Crimson Tide's second straight triumph in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, an 81-63 victory in the quarterfinals over 16th-ranked Auburn, the top seed.
Trailing by 10 at halftime, Sexton helped make sure the Tide would roll for at least another day, most likely longer. He hit a trio of 3-pointers to jumpstart the offense as Alabama stormed back with a 28-3 spurt to start the second half and outscored its archrival 50-22 after the break.
''Coach told us just not to give up, keep playing, fight through adversity,'' said Sexton, who finished with 31 points a day after his court-long dash and scoop at the buzzer had given the Tide a scintillating one-point win over Texas A&M. ''We knew when we came in this tournament we had to win games, and we wanted to because we have a lot to prove. I feel like everybody counted us out.''
The SEC Tournament has been a boon for Alabama (19-14), which entered riding a five-game losing streak and teetering on the brink of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Tide entered the day ranked No. 46 in RPI, sixth in strength of schedule, and had six Quadrant 1 victories.
''We've been trying to build a resume all season long,'' Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. ''For us to be involved in a five-game losing streak and weather all of that adversity and be where we are right now speaks to the character and the core of our team. If you're looking for a team that has an impressive resume, we feel we're one of those teams. All you can do is allow what you do on the floor to speak for itself.
''Talk is cheap. I say that all the time,'' Johnson said. ''But we are an NCAA Tournament team, if you want to know my opinion. There shouldn't be any doubt about that.''
ON THE RISE
Providence: The fifth-seeded Friars (21-12, RPI 35) rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half and stunned top-seeded and third-ranked Xavier 75-72 in overtime to advance to the Big East championship game against Villanova. Providence, seeking its fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth, has beaten Xavier twice and Villanova once this season and chalked up its fifth Quadrant 1 triumph.
''I don't think we're on that bubble, baby! I don't think we're on that bubble, baby!'' Providence coach Ed Cooley shouted afterward.
St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies (25-6, 22 RPI) continue to roll after their 13th straight win, 83-77 over Richmond in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. Matt Mobley hit an Atlantic 10 Tournament-record nine 3-pointers and scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half for the Bonnies, who haven't lost since Jan. 19. They'll play No. 3 seed Davidson, the last team to beat them, in the semifinals Saturday.
''I think the only way we can secure our spot is winning the whole thing, honestly,'' Mobley said. ''You know, the snub in 2016, everybody remembers that, and we don't want to go through that again, so the only way to avoid that is to try to win this whole thing.''
San Diego State: The Aztecs (21-10, RPI 85, Strength of Schedule 125) did what they had to do to keep in contention for a bid to the Big Dance for the first time in three years by blowing out No. 22 Nevada 90-73 in the Mountain West Conference semifinals. Devin Watson scored 20 points to lead San Diego State, which has won eight in a row.
Butler: The Bulldogs (20-13) pulled off a big victory over Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals but fell behind 19-0 at the outset against Villanova in the semifinals, couldn't recover, and lost 87-68 . The Bulldogs had an RPI of 36 and four Quadrant 1 wins entering the game, one of them over Villanova at home.
Oregon: The Ducks (22-11, RPI 63), seeded sixth in the Pac-12 Tournament, beat Washington State and Utah to remain in the hunt but lost to USC 74-54 on Friday night in the semifinals.
Syracuse: The Orange (20-13) likely were the last team eliminated a year ago from the NCAA Tournament - they were tabbed the top seed in the NIT. If there's one game they'd probably like to have back this time around, it's a 51-49 loss at home in January to Notre Dame . The Irish played without their top two scorers (Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell) and still found a way to win on a last-second putback by Rex Pflueger. Buffalo's win Friday in the Mid-American Conference semifinals likely will give the Orange (43 RPI, No. 17 strength of schedule) their fourth Quadrant 1 win, but is that enough?
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