'Tide Rises to the Call

Times Staff Writer

At this rate, Mark Gottfried might want to concoct a homemade distraction for his Alabama players before they depart the team hotel Saturday to face heavily favored UCLA.

The Crimson Tide seems to thrive under adverse circumstances.

Playing only hours after a bomb scare had forced the evacuation of Cox Arena, 10th-seeded Alabama showed no jitters Thursday afternoon during a 90-85 victory over seventh-seeded Marquette in an Oakland Regional first-round game.

Crimson Tide forward Jean Felix, who made only two of 14 shots in Alabama's previous two games -- losses to Mississippi State and Kentucky -- relocated his shooting touch during a game that got underway after a 70-minute delay.

The senior forward made eight of 11 three-pointers -- a school record in an NCAA tournament game -- and finished with a career-high 31 points. Felix also made seven of eight free throws.

"I've seen him get hot before but not that hot," Alabama forward Richard Hendrix said of Felix, who did not take a shot inside the three-point arc. "Hopefully, he can keep doing it in the next round."

The Crimson Tide (18-12) could use another step-up performance from Felix on Saturday in the second round against second-seeded UCLA (28-6). But, as Alabama showed Thursday, it has more than just one player capable of making things miserable for an opponent.

Big men Hendrix (6-foot-8) and Jermareo Davidson (6-10) extend possessions by grabbing offensive rebounds and muscling into the paint for easy putbacks. Guard Ronald Steele, who made four of six three-pointers against Marquette, provides a potent outside threat who can also drive into the lane.

And then there's the 6-7 Felix, the soft-spoken gentleman from the Congo who combines the length of a post player with the shooting touch of a guard.

"They're far from being a one- or two-man team," Marquette Coach Tom Crean said of the Crimson Tide.

Said Golden Eagle forward Steve Novak: "The size that they have down low is like an NBA team."

Novak helped Marquette regain the lead midway through the second half after it trailed, 44-30, at halftime, then had a chance to put the Golden Eagles ahead in the final minute when he attempted a long turnaround jumper.

But Novak missed and Marquette had to foul Steele, who made two free throws to extend Alabama's lead to 88-85 with 19 seconds remaining.

Then came the Golden Eagles' final chance. After coming off a couple of screens, Novak was wide open when he hoisted a three-point attempt from the corner that bounced off the side of the rim and over the backboard, sealing Marquette's fate.

"My heart stopped when he got open," said Steele, who finished with 23 points. "I thought he was going to make it."

Said Novak: "It felt good ... but it didn't go down for me."

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