Alabama basketball: Petty, Sexton lead Tide past Virginia Tech

Smith gave Alabama a low-post threat with 8 points and 3 rebounds.

But defense became this team's identity late in the season, and it was part of their downfall at PPG Paints Arena.

That's easy to do when you're as fast as Sexton, but Petty felt like a stabilizing force when Bama needed one most. Sexton also recorded three rebounds and six assists.

Things are about to get tough for the Crimson Tide, however, with No. 1 seed Villanova the opponent for Saturday.

We projected Villanova (31-4) to beat First Four victor and No. 16 Radford 85-62 in the first round, and the final was 87-61 in the Wildcats' sixth straight victory - 87 points is what the nation's top-ranked offence averaged during the season.

Prediction: Alabama has a gritty team, and with a star like Sexton, they're capable of beating any team in the country.

Robinson led the way with 19 points but fouled out in the closing minutes, while senior guard Justin Bibbs added 17 points and freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 15 points. She's a tremendous 3-point shooter.

Sexton picked up back-to-back offensive fouls early, resigning him to the bench for most of the first half.

This battle pits one of the NCAA's top offenses against one of its elite defenses as Virginia Tech now ranks 12th in effective field goal percentage (0.575) and Alabama is 35th in effective field goal percentage allowed (0.472). Alabama started 6-0 this season and closed November 7-1, but opened December by losing three of five. He took a charge, on what would have been an "and-1" that could have cut Alabama's lead to one with 48 seconds remaining.

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"They had to play him and they had to play me", Petty said.

The last five basketball seasons saw Villanova lose no more than five games. Petty was on fire from beyond the arc, draining six three-pointers. If this game is close late, the advantage goes to Alabama. Buzz Williams' Virginia Tech squad, however, is one of them (West Virginia is the other).

The Crimson Tide are going to have to win this game on the boards.

Blackshear missed a jumper and was called for his fourth foul.

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"The higher you go, the altitude changes. I thought it was a block", Williams said. "We need to continue to get reps at that". Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was 7-for-9 for 16 points. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova (31-4) played to near-perfection for the first 30 minutes, and everyone played a role.

Radford, out of rural southwestern Virginia, must have felt as if it were playing against ace pop-a-shot players. Alabama shot 61 percent (14 of 23) from the floor in the second half, including a 17-footer from Sexton that hit the back of the rim and dropped in to put the Crimson Tide up 70-64 with 5:11 to play. He was 6 of 8 from 3-point range.