ORLEANS (AP) -- The team that was No. 1 in December may
not be part of the madness in March.
Alabama's NCAA hopes took a major blow when the Crimson
Tide lost to Vanderbilt 82-69 in the opening round of
the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday night.
Freshman Mario Moore scored a career-high 25 points
and the Commodores took control with an early 12-0 run.
Moore, who was averaging just 4.9 points per game, made
Vanderbilt (11-17) won for the first time since Feb.
1, snapping a nine-game losing streak.
Alabama (17-11) will certainly go down as one of the
year's biggest disappointments. The Tide was ranked
No. 1 in December but has been in a freefall since then.
After starting the season 9-0, Alabama may have played
its way into the National Invitation Tournament by winning
only eight of its last 19 games.
Alabama can hope that a strong RPI and the 12th-toughest
schedule in the country will overcome its dismal finish.
But that seems unlikely, considering the Tide had a
losing record in its own league.
Vanderbilt will be hard-pressed to pull of another
upset. The Commodores advanced to a Friday night game
against No. 2 Kentucky, the regular-season champion
and a perfect 16-0 in league play.
Last week, the Wildcats blew out Vandy 106-44 in Lexington.
For one night, at least, the Commodores can celebrate.
They never trailed, hitting their first eight shots
- half of them from behind the 3-point arc. Even when
Vandy finally missed, Brian Thornton grabbed the rebound
and laid it back in.
Moore scored the game's first basket from outside the
arc. After Antoine Pettway answered with a trey of his
own, Vandy scored the next 12 points.
The Commodores twice built the lead to 13 points in
the opening half, and they went to the locker room with
a 46-37 lead after Moore hit another trey with five
Moore eclipsed his previous high of 17 points in a
Jan. 14 loss to Kentucky.
Maurice Williams, who led Alabama with 24 points, tried
to exhort his teammates, pounding his chest after hitting
a long jumper to make it 77-69 with 2:10 remaining.
But Vandy scored the final five points to match its
The Commodores made 24-of-47 shots (53.2 percent) from
the field. More impressively, the SEC's worst defensive
team limited Alabama to 24-of-61 (39.3 percent).
Sagging in the middle, the Commodores were able to
stymie Erwin Dudley, who was averaging 15 points and
9.7 rebound per game. The 2001 SEC player of the year
didn't score in the first half and finished with just
six points and five rebounds.
Maybe the outcome wasn't that big a surprise. Vandy
swept the Tide this season, also winning 70-69 during
the regular season.
The game was played before a sparse turnout of 8,526
in the cavernous Superdome - the smallest crowd for
an SEC tournament game since 1996.
The crowd was hurt by the lack of a second game for
the night session. Georgia dropped out of the tournament
on Monday because of academic fraud involving two players,
forcing the conference the redo its schedule.
At least two Georgia fans still showed up. They held
up a sign that said, ''Suspended Without Play,'' a reference
to coach Jim Harrick's suspension with pay.
1 2 F
VANDERBILT 46 36 -- 82
ALABAMA 37 32 -- 69