Anthony Grant knows the situation is a tight one.
He has no delusions about the Alabama basketball team’s postseason hopes, and the fact that unless the Crimson Tide (15-14, 6-10 SEC) wins the Southeastern Conference tournament, which opens play today, there will be no dance in the March NCAA tournament.
In fact, if the Tide drops its opener against South Carolina, set for a noon tipoff, it likely won’t even be able to participate in the National Invitational Tournament, the second-tier college basketball postseason.
Not that you’ll hear Grant mention anything about it.
“We always deal with the present,” Grant said in a Monday press conference. “We always take it one day at a time, so our complete focus will be on preparing for the game that’s in front of us.”
Alabama will need all the focus it can muster against the Gamecocks. The Tide beat South Carolina 79-70 in Columbia March 3, and without a doubt will be looking for a measure of revenge. South Carolina is led by the SEC’s leading scorer, Devan Downey.
Despite his slight build (Downey is just 5-foot-9 and weighs just 175 pounds), the senior guard averages more than 22 points a game, with two of his finest performances played against Vanderbilt (35 points) and Kentucky (30 points), the top two squads in the league.
“He’s very difficult to deal with,” Grant said upon arriving in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, according to a UA athletics news release. “I think he’s one of the more dynamic players in the country, not just the conference. For him to be able to do what he does with the attention that he gets every game, I think that’s just really incredible.”
With two straight wins heading into today’s game, senior guard and second team All-SEC selection Mikhail Torrance reiterated his thoughts from last Saturday’s 73-61 victory over arch-rival Auburn: nobody wants a piece of the Tide right now.
“I just think we have a great chance on a neutral court to do a great job,” Torrance said.
With the Tide accustomed to narrow conference losses and blown double-digit leads, Torrance feels that with the two victories tagged on the end of a difficult SEC season, Alabama has learned some hard lessons on what it takes to win in the conference.
“Just hanging out on defense and closing games,” Torrance said. “These last two games we’ve really been closing out games and just playing defense and finishing our defensive rebounds. That’s very important.”
Fellow senior Anthony Brock agreed with his teammates’ sentiments, stating that positive team energy was the key to victory.
“Coming together, just coming together as a team and helping each other,” Brock said. “And really just staying together out there on the court.”
Should the Tide win today, it will advance to the second round to face the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats, the regular season SEC champions who earned a bye in the first round, at noon on Friday.
“I think when you look at the success they’ve had, they’re 14-2 in the league and outright champions,” Grant said. “Anything can happen and obviously you’ve got to prepare as best you can.”