Originally created 03/09/02

No. 8 Alabama 65, South Carolina 57



ATLANTA -- Kenny Walker's three-point play with 26.3 seconds remaining broke a tie, and No. 8 Alabama went on to beat South Carolina 65-57 in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday.

The Crimson Tide (26-6), which already claimed its first regular-season SEC title since 1987, will play for its first tournament championship in 11 years against Mississippi State on Sunday.

South Carolina (18-14) kept it close despite going nearly six minutes in the second half without a field goal. In fact, the Gamecocks had the ball and a chance for the lead after Erwin Dudley missed a hook shot with 41 seconds remaining.

Chuck Eidson got tangled with Maurice Williams while dribbling toward the corner, both players tumbling to the court. Alabama's Rod Grizzard grabbed the loose ball and fired a long pass to Antoine Pettway, who missed the layup but was bailed out by Walker.

Walker jammed the ball through with an emphatic dunk, was fouled by Carlos Powell and hit the free throw to give Alabama a 60-57 lead.

Powell tried to even things up with a 3-pointer, but his shot spun out and caught the rim again before falling into Walker's hands. He was fouled immediately and made one free throw with 17.4 seconds left to seal the victory.

Powell let out an anguished cry and held his head in his hands after the miss.

South Carolina, which upset No. 12 Kentucky on Friday, was denied a chance to play for its first SEC tournament title since joining the league for the 1991-92 season. Coach Dave Odom is hopeful of NCAA consideration, but trip to the NIT is much more likely.

The Gamecocks were doomed by poor free-throw shooting, making just three of eight. Alabama, which had five fewer field goals, was 20-of-26 at the line.

Walker led Alabama with 21 points. Terrance Meade added 15, while Grizzard, who scored a career-high 33 points in the quarterfinals, was held to seven on 2-of-10 shooting. His first shot - an airball - set the tone.

The teams went back-and-forth through most of the first half, with 12 lead changes and four ties. South Carolina pulled even at 23 on Tony Kitchings' basket with 3:10 remaining.

But Alabama finished the period with a 15-5 run, including seven straight points in the final minute. Meade hit a 3-pointer, then was fouled on a drive to the basket with less than a second to go. He made both free throws to give the Tide a 38-38 lead at the break.

Alabama pushed the margin to 12 early in the second half before South Carolina reeled off a 9-0 spurt. The Gamecocks stayed close the rest of the way, but didn't pull even until Aaron Lucas hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 remaining to make it 57-all.

South Carolina went cold after Powell's jumper with 11:02 to go. The Gamecocks managed only one free throw until Powell converted a three-point play with 5:04 left.

Alabama couldn't pull away, however, shooting just 39 percent (20-of-51) from the field.

Kitchings led South Carolina with 16 points, and Powell had 15.