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They were led in scoring against the Cougars by Garrett Stutz, a 7-foot center that few other schools recruited. Toure Murry and Gabe Blair also had mild interest from bigger schools, but chose instead to star for a school in the middle of the Heartland, where they could forge an identity for themselves with their blue-collar work ethic.

“This definitely is a tribute to our defense and how well we’re playing,” Blair said.

Alabama was left hanging on Selection Sunday, despite beating Georgia _ a team that made the field _ twice in the final weeks of the season. The Crimson Tide could have sulked, but instead have embraced the opportunity to continue playing in March.

“I’m just glad we’ve been able to advance and play for a championship,” said freshman guard Trevor Releford, who scored the go-ahead basket in the closing seconds of a 62-61 victory over Colorado in the other semifinal Tuesday night.

Grant has been asked about VCU just as much as Alabama this week, and has politely answered every question. The young coach acknowledges that he’s enjoyed watching his former players make a deep NCAA tournament run, and plans to watch them again on Saturday.

First, though, he’ll try to coach Alabama to a title of its own.

“Our preparation does not change from one game to the next,” Grant said. “This one happens to be for a championship, but we will prepare the same way. We’re going to play to our identity and do the things that we have done all year and that have led us to be successful.”