ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Even when the shots weren’t falling, Alabama knew it could count on the defense.
Then, finally, the Crimson Tide knocked down a couple of key baskets — from beyond the 3-point arc, no less.
Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the closing minutes, leading Alabama to an ugly 52-45 victory that ended Georgia’s five-game winning streak Tuesday night.
“That’s basically our identity,” Randolph said. “We try to play 94 feet both ways, play aggressively on defense, and use our defensive intensity to create momentum.”
The Crimson Tide (16-8, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) won for the eighth time in 10 games with another stifling defensive effort. Alabama has held nine straight SEC opponents to less than 60 points, limiting the Bulldogs to 31 percent (16 of 52) from the field.
“We’ve struggled offensively,” Tide coach Anthony Grant said. “But we’ve really done a great job at the defensive end. That’s carried us through.”
Georgia (12-12, 6-5) went more than 10 minutes without a field goal in the second half but still had a chance because of both teams’ offensive woes. When Donte Williams slammed in a wild miss off the backboard, the Bulldogs led 41-40 with 2:37 remaining, capping a lightning-quick 9-0 spurt that had the sparse crowd at Stegeman Coliseum roaring.
But Randolph swished a 3-pointer, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rushed up an off-balance trey that missed, and Cooper knocked down another shot from beyond the arc to essentially clinch it for Alabama with 1:36 left.
“I was proud of the way our guys answered,” Grant said.
Alabama had made just 4 of 37 from long distance over its previous two games, and was 4 of 16 against the Bulldogs before suddenly finding the range. Even so, Grant didn’t mind when Randolph spotted up outside the stripe with the Tide trailing by one.
“I’ve got all the confidence in our guys as long as we take good ones,” the coach said. “I told them to stay aggressive. We got a lot of good looks tonight. We’re going to get on a roll where shots are falling for us.”
All Georgia could do was moan about letting another win get away, especially when it looked as though the Bulldogs were on the verge of pulling out an improbable victory. They endured a brutal drought in the second half after Caldwell-Pope hit a baseline jumper with 16:12 remaining, not making another field goal until Brandon Morris’ basket with 5:37 left.
In between, Georgia missed 10 straight shots, hanging close with nothing but free throws.
“We made too many errors to win the game,” coach Mark Fox said. “Both teams defended well. The moment of truth, they made a couple of baskets, and it comes down to their offense was just better than our defense late in the game.”
Cooper led the Crimson Tide with 14 points — no one else on the winning team was in double figures. Alabama prevailed despite shooting just 39 percent (19 of 49) and getting beat on the boards, 41-33.
Caldwell-Pope scored 22 points for the Bulldogs, and Nemanja Djurisic added 12. But Georgia didn’t have another player with more than four points, a staggering display of offensive ineptitude that might have ended any hope of making an improbable late-season run for NCAA consideration.
“We couldn’t find our shot in the second half,” said Djurisic, who had only one point after halftime. “We missed a lot of open shots. I was trying to get in the paint to score. It was a low-scoring game on both sides. Those last two 3s they made really hurt us. We were right there, but they separated from us with those big shots.”
The teams meet again March 9 in Tuscaloosa, the regular-season finale for both.
Georgia was trying for its first six-game winning streak in the SEC since 2001, coming into the game tied with Kentucky for the longest active run in the conference. Both teams lost Tuesday, with the Wildcats falling at Florida.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and pushed the margin to 15-6 on a jumper by Caldwell-Pope. But Alabama dominated the rest of the half, as Georgia went nearly 4 minutes without scoring in a preview of the brickfest that was to come over the final 20 minutes. The home team missed five straight shots along with a turnover, allowing the Tide to close the half on a 19-7 run.
Alabama went to the locker room with a 25-22 lead after Trevor Lacey’s layup with 27 seconds remaining.
“We talked about being aggressive and staying aggressive for the whole 40 minutes,” Grant said. “It was great to see our guys stay aggressive like that.”
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PAUL NEWBERRY,AP Sports Writer
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.