NEW YORK — Four basketball teams shot 50 percent or better against Alabama this season.
Kentucky is in the Final Four. Florida played in the Elite Eight. Seton Hall and Providence are early season mysteries better forgotten.
The Crimson Tide is still playing and defense is the No 1 reason. On Tuesday, they cooled off Colorado 62-61 to set up tonight's National Invitation Tournament final against Wichita State.
"To hold Colorado to 61 points is a great defensive effort," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "They're very aggressive and they're very athletic. That's the key to the game — which team is going to handle the other team's defensive pressure the best."
Alabama led the Southeastern Conference in shooting defense (38.3 percent) and steals (9.4). It held the Buffaloes to 40-percent shooting with a zone defense that extended to the arc to blanket three-point shooters. Alabama usually relies on man-to-man defense.
"The thing we have talked about all year is that defensively, we are a team that can defend a lot of different ways," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We can play zone. We can play man. We can press. We can do a lot of things."
The Tide grabbed 11 steals and forced 16 turnovers, holding Colorado under 70 points for the first time since a Feb. 19 loss at Kansas.
"We shot 40 percent for the game, and that's a testament to Alabama and the way they guard," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
Colorado, however, lacks inside scoring threats. Alabama's defense must account for Wichita State post men J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair and Garrett Stutz. That trio combined to make 17 of 23 shots in the semifinal win over Washington State. The Tide didn't press Colorado, although that is a tactic it often uses.
"We have to be ready to handle their pressure and execute on offense," WSU senior Aaron Ellis said.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla says Alabama leads the nation in deflections. Its quickness and reach can disrupt offenses.
"We think it's a big deal," Grant said. "Our guys have done a good job all year of being active defensively. The reason we've have the success we've had started on the defensive end."