Alabama falls to No. 17 Cincy 58-56 on last shot
Alabama saw it coming and came within a fingertip's reach of stopping it.
It came down to two plays on defense. Cincinnati (7-0) took advantage of its chance, swatting away the Crimson Tide's shot to try to take the lead in the closing seconds. Alabama (6-1) then failed to stop Cincinnati's final try.
''For the game to come down to that last shot, I'm proud of the effort our guys gave tonight,'' coach Anthony Grant said.
''Releford felt he could turn corner and get at the rim,'' Grant said. ''Jackson is a great defender. He made a heck of a play and kept the ball inbounds.''
Then, Wright barely got off a shot for the first game-winner of his career.
Wright took the inbound pass at midcourt, drove to the left side of the basket and hit his fadeaway 12-footer over the outstretched arm of 7-foot center Moussa Gueye.
Wright fell on his back after releasing the ball and didn't see it go through the hoop. He knew he'd won the game when teammates rushed at him.
''It was the least I could do,'' Wright said. ''I basically was throwing away the whole game at the end. I felt if they could take me that far, I could make the shot.''
Wright was only 3 of 8 from the field with four turnovers when coach Mick Cronin drew up the final play, putting the game in his hands. If Wright saw leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick open, he was supposed to pass to him. If not, take the shot.
Alabama anticipated it but couldn't block it - the shot barely cleared Gueye's fingertips.
''I thought we contested the shot, but he's a hell of a player,'' Grant said. ''He made a big-time shot.''
JaQuon Parker and Kilpatrick had 13 apiece for Cincinnati. Trevor Lacey led Alabama with 16.
Cincinnati opened the game with a 17-4 run, but the Crimson Tide regrouped and kept it tight throughout the second half, which featured five ties and eight lead changes. The Bearcats went more than 6 minutes without a field goal.
After the opening minutes, the game was even.
''We knew coming in that their defense was outstanding and they were going to apply pressure,'' Grant said. ''We didn't do a very good job of handling it early. I told our guys what we needed to do was just settle down, it's going to be a 40-minute game, we're going to have an opportunity if we took care of the basketball.''
Alabama was the next team into the Top 25 this week, getting the 26th-most points while going 6-0 for the second season in a row. The Crimson Tide spent the first half overcoming a bad start, then had it come down to Wright's shot.
The Crimson Tide had eight turnovers during Cincinnati's opening 17-4 run. The Crimson Tide got back into the game by dominating the boards and taking care of the ball - only eight turnovers the rest of the way.
Alabama's 7-foot-1 center Carl Engstrom fell on the court and hurt his left knee less than 4 minutes into the game. He limped off and didn't return. Grant said Engstrom would have tests on the knee to determine the severity of the injury.
Cincinnati's defensive pressure quickly had an effect, setting up that early run. The Crimson Tide settled down and started playing a little pressure defense of their own during an 11-2 spurt that cut it to 21-18. Lacey's back-to-back baskets completed the run.
Alabama kept it close in the first half by dominating the boards 20-11 against Cincinnati's three-guard lineup. Releford's 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the Bearcats' lead to 33-27 at halftime.
Releford missed the last game with a stomach virus, but was back in form on Saturday, playing 37 minutes and scoring 12 points.
The Crimson Tide didn't shoot a free throw in the first half, while Cincinnati went 8 of 11 from the line. Gueye had a three-point play - including Alabama's first point from the line - during an 11-4 run that opened the second half. Lacey's pull-up jumper from the baseline gave Alabama its first lead, 38-37, with 14:16 to go.
Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way.