PITTSBURGH – The NCAA tournament does not offer second chances. Every team playing on Thursday or Friday is only guaranteed a single game.
Alabama knows that feeling. It was only a week ago when the Crimson Tide was facing a win-or-go-home trip to St. Louis in the SEC tournament.
“I think this is a good place for our team,” coach Avery Johnson said. “They understand if we don’t run hard on the break, if we don’t have great spacing, a lot of the areas we’ve malfunctioned and especially during our losing streak, (then) they understand there’s no tomorrow. So I think this is a great place for our team and the timing is good.”
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
When: Thursday at 8:20 p.m. Central Time
Where: PPG Paints Arena
Records: Alabama 19-15, Virginia Tech 21-11
Radio: 95.3 FM
Johnson gathered the team together before the conference tournament and laid out what the team was facing. Alabama couldn’t afford to look past its first game, but needed two wins to reach the NCAA tournament.
Alabama will need two wins in Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet Sixteen next weekend. First up is Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
“I feel like we’re gelling together, we’re coming together and we were playing our best basketball in St. Louis,” freshman guard John Petty said. “Especially in the game against Auburn, we defended the ball excellent and we gave great offense. I feel like this is the perfect time.”
Petty said Alabama was able to improve its rebounding in the SEC tournament. That had hurt the Crimson Tide during its losing streak. There were other things Alabama fixed in St. Louis as well.
“We didn’t play in spurts,” freshman guard Collin Sexton said. “We gave it our all the whole 40 minutes, and we just didn’t give up and when we’re playing like that, I feel like nobody can beat us.”
Alabama hadn’t faced that kind of pressure all season before arriving in St. Louis. A robust nonconference schedule and an 8-5 start to conference play meant Alabama could feel good about its NCAA tournament chances all season long.
Then a five-game losing streak put Alabama under a microscope. The games against Texas A&M and Auburn were both like game seven in a seven-game series, Johnson told his team.
“It makes you play harder,” Petty said. “It’s win or go home. This is single elimination. You just have to come out and give it all and put it all on the floor.”