March 30, 2011 9:50:00 AM
NEW YORK -- The University of Alabama men''s basketball team is making sure Anthony Grant stays focused on his team rather than watching his former team''s incredible NCAA tournament run.
After all, the Crimson Tide will play for a championship.
JaMychal Green scored 22 points, Trevor Releford scored the go-ahead basket in the closing seconds, and the top-seeded Crimson Tide withstood a late rally to beat fellow No. 1 seed University of Colorado 62-61 in the NIT semifinals Tuesday night.
Releford finished with 13 points and six assists for the Crimson Tide (25-11), who will play Wichita State on Thursday night for the tournament title. Wichita State beat Washington State 75-44 in the other semifinal game at Madison Square Garden.
"We''re excited," Grant said. "We''re disappointed when we didn''t reach one of our goals, to go to the NCAA tournament, but our guys turned the page quickly."
One of the last at-large berths to the NCAA tournament went to Virginia Commonwealth, Grant''s former team. The Rams have turned their good fortune into the feel-good story of March, winning a game in the "First Four" and then upsetting their way to the Final Four in Houston.
Grant has said he''s proud of the job his former players have done this postseason. Jamie Skeen transferred into his program before Grant left, and scored 26 points in the Rams'' upset of No. 1 seed Kansas. Grant also recruited Bradford Burgess, whose layup in overtime beat Florida State, and Joey Rodriguez, who had 12 points and 11 assists in a third-round upset of Purdue.
The Rams'' success is bittersweet for Grant, especially after Alabama, the Southeastern Conference Western Division champion, didn''t receive an at-large NCAA tournament bid. He has been asked almost as much about them as his team, one that''s trying to make its history.
Alabama has been to the NIT semifinals six times and never won the title.
"I''m glad we have a chance to play for a championship," Releford said.
Alabama trailed 61-60 with 12 seconds left when the freshman slipped along the baseline and scored the go-ahead basket. After a timeout, Colorado got the ball into the hands of sophomore standout Alec Burks, whose off-balance shot at the buzzer clanked off the rim.
Burks dropped face-first to the floor when the shot bounced away, then slipped out of the locker room and onto the team bus only minutes after the game ended.
"It was a great look. I''ll take Alec with a 15-footer for the win any day," said Levi Knutson, who added 14 points for the Buffaloes. "There were a lot of possessions in the game that made the difference."
Burks had 20 points and Cory Higgins had 13 for Colorado (24-14), which made a run to the Big 12 tournament semifinals before losing to eventual champion Kansas, a late-season charge the Buffaloes thought would get them into the NCAA tournament.
"I''ll take these guys in that locker room any day of the week," said first-year coach Tad Boyle, whose former team -- Northern Colorado -- also made the NCAA tournament. "We''ve come a long way this year as a team."
Alabama led 36-30 at halftime after both teams used 10-0 runs in the first 20 minutes. The Crimson Tide built the lead to 40-30 on a pair of baskets by Green shortly after the break before Colorado climbed back into the game.
Green went to the bench with his fourth foul with 12 minutes, 19 secondds left, and Colorado pulled ahead 48-47 moments later on a basket by Marcus Relphorde and a free throw by Higgins.
Colorado still led 57-52 with 6:02 left, about the same time that Green finally checked back into the game. He scored a couple minutes later to start an 8-0 run, which Charvez Davis capped with a basket that made it 60-57 with 2:56 remaining.
Green fouled out with 2:27 left, and the Buffaloes pulled back ahead on two free throws by Burks and a basket by Andre Roberson. They just couldn''t get another shot to go, including the final one of the game.
"That was a hard-fought game by two teams playing late in March, and they were just a little better than us," Boyle said. "I''m really proud of our team, the way we fought and competed. We just came up a little bit short."
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