There are three constants that usually happen when this Alabama basketball team wins. They are: score 80 points or more as a team, make 10 or more three point shots, and have Jaden Shackelford score 15 or more points. The team did none of the three, but still could have come away with a victory simply by making one more free throw during regulation. The Tide finished a miserable 11-25 in the game and lost 88-78 in overtime to 11th seeded UCLA. Alabama finished the season at 26-7 and UCLA improved to 21-9. The Bruins snuck in the tournament as one of the last four in and had to win a play in game to advance.
Things could not have started any worse for the Tide as SEC Player of the year Herbert Jones was called for two charging fouls in the first 41 seconds of the game. UCLA jumped out to a 7-1 lead before the Tide finally got a basket on a three pointer by Jordan Bruner. Keon Ellis followed with a long range shot to tie the game with 15:12 left in the half. Jahvon Quinerly and Josh Primo came off the bench and helped spur the Tide to a 15-7 lead after a 14-0 run. Ellis quickly picked up two fouls also and things started to unravel. The Bruins continually hit contested, YOLO-type, three point shots and built a 40-29 half time margin, helped by the Tide making only 4-10 free throws. The misses included the front end of two one and one opportunities. Bama’s eight point lead became an 11 point deficit, and things looked bleak.
At the half the Tide was shooting 44% from the field, 30% from deep, and 40% from the free throw line, had 16 rebounds, and had committed eight turnovers. UCLA was shooting 46% from the field, 47% from three and 100% from the charity stripe.
Coach Nate Oats troops came out with a new fire in the second half and with 14 minutes left had tied the game at 40 each. UCLA finally scored to retake the lead, and reeled off seven straight points to take a 47-40 lead. Alabama tied things up on a great Jones to Juwan Gary pass for a dunk and a 49-49 game with 8:13 left in the game. The score went back and forth for several minutes, with the Tide continuing to missing free throws that would have built a margin of error for the team.
With 6:16 left Ellis got fouled on a rebound and went to the line for one and one, but again missed. Juwan Gary did Juwan Gary things and tipped the rebound to himself and scored on a put back for a 54-53 Tide lead. The game continued to see-saw back and forth over the last six minutes of the game. Petty tied things at 60 with 2:48 left, and after getting the ball back Jones was fouled with a chance to build a two point lead. Jones did hit the front end of the one and one, but missed the second with 2:26 left. UCLA missed the front end on their next possession and the Tide looked to take control. Petty lost control of the ball off a Bruin players foot, and the ball shot between Petty’s legs out of bounds. The ball was rewarded to Alabama, but after a lengthy review, the officials ruled that the ball had nicked Petty’s baggy shorts on the way out of bounds.
UCLA missed a shot with 1:22 left and Ellis rebounded. A nice play got the ball to Gary going to the basket and he missed the shot, although he appeared to be fouled. At the other end a very similar play ended up with a fifth foul called on Gary. The Bruin player made one of the free shots and the game was tied at 61 each. With 36 seconds left, Jones was fouled and made one of the two free shots to give the Tide the one point lead. UCLA ran a play into the lane, passing under the basket for a dunk, as the passer ran over Jones on what could have been called a charge.
With 14 seconds left the Tide was down 63-62 and had the ball with a chance to win. Jones ended up handling the ball rather than Quinerly, and drove to the basket and was fouled with 4.2 second left. The senior Jones, a 75% free throw shooter this season, missed both shots. The Tide immediately fouled and the Bruins made both shots for a three point lead. Bama ran a beautiful play, getting the ball to Alex Reese at the top of the key. The often maligned senior from Pelham let fly a perfect shot that tied the game as time ran out. It would have seemed that the finish would have given the Tide momentum heading to overtime, but alas it did not.
After scoring only 25 points in the whole second half the Bruins found their touch again and ran off 23 points in the five minute extra period. The killer was an off balance, shot clock beating, ugly, three pointer that found the bottom of the basket. Playing from behind, the Tide continually fouled and UCLA continually made their free chances to take the 10 point victory.
For the game the Tide hit 43% of their shots, 30-69, including only 7-28 from three and a pathetic 11-25 for 44% from the free throw line. The 11-25 performance was the worst in NCAA Tournament play since Kansas went 12-30 in the 2003 Championship game vs Syracuse. The Tide had 46 rebounds, 15 on the offensive end, only nine assists, six steals, five blocks, and 14 big turnovers. UCLA shot only 39% from the field on 29-74, made 10-29 from deep for 34% and won the game by making 20-25 free throws. The Bruins had 42 rebounds, also 15 offensive, with 12 assists, eight steals, seven blocks, and only eight turnovers.
Quinerly continued his late season surge and led the team with 20 points, but was 8-22 from the field. Petty finished strong with 16 points and five rebounds. Ellis added 10 points and nine rebounds, while Jones had eight points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and a steal. Juwan Gary came on strong the last third of the season and he added eight points and five rebounds in the game. Shackelford could never get on track and made 2-7 shots for four points. When he is at his best he is driving and scoring, dishing, or getting to the free throw line, but he had zero free throw attempts in the game.
Oats had glowing words through the disappointment for his seniors. The coach said that “in 30 years I’m going to be talking about this team, how they changed the culture of Alabama basketball.” He continued, “Reese, Petty, and Jones didn't have to stay and play for the new guy, but they did and I can't say enough about how much they have meant.” Oats also praised grad transfer Jordan Bruner and walk-ons Tyler Barnes and Britton Johnson. The coach said that free throw shooting is “always a mental thing” in trying to describe what went wrong for his team. Oats was optimistic for the future, with the players returning as well as the new guys coming in.
This was a disappointing end to a dream season. When the team was sitting 4-3 in December none of us would have dreamed they would have gone 16-2 in the SEC, won the league title as well as the tournament championship, and end up as a two seed in the NCAA Tournament. That being said, it is hard not to be disappointed in losing to a team that the Tide is better than. That’s the nature of tournament basketball. We need to look at this as the beginning, not the end.