February 5, 2011 9:37:00 PM
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Alabama men''s basketball team is trying not to forget how it feels to lose while it''s busy dominating the Southeastern Conference.
Even as its offense struggled the Crimson Tide buckled down on defense and went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in overtime to beat Tennessee 65-60 on Saturday.
"I think we are just learning how to win," freshman guard Trevor Releford said. "We went through a lot at the beginning of the season. Every night we come out we just remember that. We don''t want to be in the same position again. I think that has given us some more fight to go out and give it our all and get the win."
The Tide (15-7, 7-1 SEC) has already exceeded its conference win total from last season, owns the SEC''s best league record, leads the West Division and is off to its best start in league play since 2002. It finished 12-4 and won the regular-season title that year.
Alabama almost blew its chance at getting another resume-building win after beating then-No. 12 Kentucky 68-66 on Jan. 18.
The Crimson Tide led 42-31 with 15 minutes, 10 seconds left when a layup by Cameron Tatum sparked a 14-2 run for the Volunteers. Tatum dished the ball to Tobias Harris in the paint for a jumper that gave Tennessee a 45-44 lead with 9:32 to play.
Alabama twice built a six-point lead after that, the second one coming with 4:29 left in regulation off a jumper by Andrew Steele that would be the Tide''s last field goal in the game. Tennessee (15-8, 4-3) got the final six points, and a layup by Harris with 43 seconds left to tied it at 55 and forced overtime.
That''s when the Crimson Tide forced the Vols to get sloppy with the ball and with their hands. JaMychal Green sank six free throws in the extra frame, with Tony Mitchell and Releford each hitting a pair.
"The intensity of the game was tremendous," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "Our guys obviously answered the call in terms of the intensity we played with. We made plays down the stretch we needed to make to get the win."
Mitchell didn''t start after being late to Saturday''s shootaround but scored a career-high 24 points and had three blocked shots. Green had 14 points and Releford scored 13.
Harris scored with 19 points and 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Cameron Tatum added 16 points for Tennessee, which played its second game without leading scorer Scotty Hopson, who sprained his left ankle in practice Tuesday.
Alabama shot 66.7 percent (16 of 24) and led by as many as 12 points in the first half while giving the Vols problems in the paint at both ends of the floor. The Crimson Tide scored 28 of its 40 paint points before halftime and limited Tennessee to just 36.7-percent shooting (11 of 30) in the first half.
"They shot 67 percent, and that just can''t happen," said Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones, who coached his final game in place of suspended coach Bruce Pearl. "Our guys didn''t come out with energy defensively."
The second half was a different story, as Alabama hit just 28.6 percent of its shots (8 of 28) between halftime and overtime. The Tide entered the game limiting opponents to 36.3-percent shooting -- the second-best average in the nation -- and the Vols only shot 34.6 percent in the second half before overtime.
"I thought we played good defense," Tennessee guard Skylar McBee said. "They didn''t score any buckets on us (in overtime). They went to the line and made their free throws, and we couldn''t come up with a bucket."
Pearl returns to the Vols'' sideline on Tuesday, when Tennessee travels to Kentucky for its third game in six days. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suspended the coach for eight conference games after he acknowledged misleading the NCAA during an ongoing investigation into Tennessee''s recruiting practices.
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