DALLAS — Tennessee junior Kyle Alexander was one of Rick Barnes’ X-factors for the NCAA Tournament, but on Saturday, UT’s starting center was no factor at all.
The No. 3-seed Vols and their fans can only wonder how much of a different Alexander would have made in Tennessee’s 63-62 loss to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.
Alexander led the team with 55 blocked shots this season and was third on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game.
“He’s a difference-maker, we can’t replace him, what he does at the rim for us,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “I’m not taking anything away from Loyola-Chicago, because they won the game, but you’ve watched us play all year. He’s been a big part of what we’ve done.
“He’s crushed because he wanted to be able to go, but he just couldn’t do it.”
The Ramblers outrebounded Tennessee 27-24 and shot 50 percent in the game.
Alexander, who suffered a hip bruise in the Vols’ 73-47 win over Wright State on Thursday, was scratched from Saturday’s starting lineup right before tipoff.
“I went to box out [Wright State center] Loudon Love and immediately, in my hip, I felt pain and it shot up my side and I had to come out,” Alexander said after Saturday’s game, recalling the injury.
“Then I tried to go back in and fight through it and it wasn’t working, so they took me out the rest of the game.”
Alexander said after the Wright State game that he would be fine.
“I just had a little collision with someone in the game, and I tried to run it off a couple of plays and it was sore,” Alexander told SEC Country on Thursday night. “So I came out and was gonna rehab it and get it good, I’ll be all right.”
Redshirt freshman John Fulkerson — who started in place of the 6-foot-11 Alexander — said he and freshman forward Derrick Walker were told on Friday that Alexander might not play.
But nothing was made official until Saturday. In fact, Alexander was listed in the starting lineup.
“They wanted to wait until last minute to see how I was feeling,” said Alexander, who led the Vols with 55 blocked shots this season. “I warmed up with the team, then when I tried to warm up with out the bigs, I couldn’t make a layup.
“I couldn’t get the ball over my head, and I was having a hard time running, so what use am I on the court?”
Alexander said he got emotional before the tip, heartbroken he couldn’t aid Tennessee in its quest to reach the Sweet 16 in its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years.
“It was the last game of the year, and I wasn’t out there with my brothers to help them,” Alexander said. “They fought really hard, but it was March Madness, and the other team made the shot.”