Alabama Basketball’s Season Ends With Overtime Loss to UCLA in Sweet 16
INDIANAPOLIS — Yeah, the experience was everything the University of Alabama basketball team had hoped for. Everyone knows that when it comes to the NCAA Tournament the range of emotions can be extreme, good and bad, and sometimes both during just a single game.
This was one of them.
Although senior forward Alex Reese hit a dramatic buzzer-beating three-pointer at the rend of regulation to send the game into overtime, the Crimson Tide ultimately fell short in overtime on Sunday night inside Hinkle Fieldhouse, 88-78 to UCLA, in the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“Really proud of our team,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said postgame. “First off, give a lot of credit to UCLA. I mean, I have a ton of respect for Coach Cronin. We go all the way back to when I was a high school coach, played against him twice now. His teams are always tough, well prepared, hard-nosed. They were that tonight.”
Within the first 40 seconds of the game, Oats was forced to send the Crimson Tide’s captain and SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Herb Jones to the bench.
The senior wing had picked up two offensive fouls on the team’s first two possessions.
At the time, it didn’t matter much.
Alabama found itself trailing 7-1 at the 16:35 mark of the opening half, but then proceeded to go on an 18-4 run without Jones on the floor. The run was ignited by three-pointers from senior forward Jordan Bruner and guard Keon Ellis.
UCLA star guard Johnny Juzang missed his first four field goals before leading the Bruins response with seven of the next 10 points to cut the deficit down to 21-20.
Alabama offensive woes continued throughout the first period, going 3-of-10 from beyond-the-arc. Jones ultimately sat on the sideline for the next 10 minutes of action after picking up those two quick fouls.
Jones, guards John Petty Jr. and Jaden Shackelford and Reese combined for two points on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor across the first 20 minutes.
Bruins guards Jules Bernard and David Singleton combined to go 6-of-7 from three-point range to give UCLA a 40-29 lead at intermission.
“It was a pretty tight first half, I thought the close to the first half was awful,” Oats added. “I thought we opened the second half really ready to go.”
However, behind clutch shooting from Petty and a tenacious defensive effort, Alabama opened the second half on a 12-0 run to tie it after the Bruins missed its first seven attempts from the floor.
A back-and-forth second period saw UCLA leading 65-62 with four seconds left but a three-pointer from Reese, who pulled up from near half-court, tied it at the sound of the buzzer.
“I can’t say enough about his character this year,” Oats said of Reese, a senior who finished his tournament run shooting 75 percent from three-point range (6-of-8) in three games against Iona, Maryland and UCLA.
Petty, a senior from Huntsville, Ala., finished his final outing in a Crimson Tide uniform with 16 points and five rebounds. Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-22 shooting.
What sealed Alabama’s fate ultimately was at the charity stripe, as the Crimson Tide went 11-of-25 on the night. It was the worst performance in an NCAA tournament game where a team attempts at least 25 since Kansas went 12-of-30 in the 2003 title game against Syracuse.
“To me, free throws are always a mental thing,” Oats said. “It’s the same distance. There’s zero variables in free throws other than the pressure you put on yourself mentally. I always tell our guys, turn yourself into a robot at the free-throw line. It’s the same thing. Do the same routine every time.
“Why it became a mental thing, I don’t know if some early misses by some guys made other guys start thinking about it. I don’t have an answer to that. It’s disappointing because, you know, if we make them, we win the game. It hurts to lose a game knowing, if you make free throws, you win.”
Juzang, the NCAA tournament’s leading scorer entering Sunday, would later foul out with 2:26 on the clock in regulation. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting, four rebounds and two steals.
UCLA controlled the overtime period from the jump, outscoring the Crimson Tide 23-13 over the final five minutes of action. The Bruins shot 62. 5 percent from the field (5-of-8) in overtime and made both of its two three-point attempts.
“The start to the overtime, we gave up that three out of the gate,” Oats said. “That’s a tough one, and they scored a second time, they built it up. Just couldn’t get the stops we needed. I don’t have an answer with why it didn’t go better in overtime.”
Seven of Singleton’s 15 points came in overtime, while Bruins guard Jamie Jaquez Jr. and Bernard both scored a team-high 17 points. Jaquez also added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
To much surprise, the Bruins, outshot the Crimson Tide from beyond-the-arc, connecting on 10 triples to Alabama’s seven.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Alabama on their season,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “To win the SEC Tournament and regular season is a tremendous accomplishment. They got some excellent seniors that play the right way. They play extremely hard. So congratulations to them.I’ve been on the other side of this, and it’s like driving off a cliff. It’s excruciating. So it should not be — the excellent season they had should not be dismissed.”
UCLA will move on to the Elite Eight to face Michigan on Tuesday night (8:57 p.m, CBS), while the Crimson Tide will head back to Tuscaloosa and regroup for the start of next season.
“And the guys that are underclassmen and will be back, and let’s not forget this feeling,” Oats said. “We’re a lot better team than this. You’ve got to be great every night in March. It’s a one-game elimination tournament. The best team doesn’t always win. The team that plays best that night wins, but it’s not always the best team.
“So really happy with the season, really proud of the guys, really disappointed with tonight.”