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Alabama falls to the UConn machine in the Final Four, but the Tide certainly made it fun for a while

Alabama forward Grant Nelson, right, shoots over UConn forward Alex Karaban during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson )
Brynn Anderson/AP
Alabama forward Grant Nelson, right, shoots over UConn forward Alex Karaban during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson )

Alabama's Grant Nelson drove the lane before winding up and throwing down a poster-worthy dunk over 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan in the second half, defying conventional wisdom by challenging the big man at the rim.

No, the Crimson Tide weren't good enough to beat mighty UConn on Saturday night. Not even that close.

But they sure made it fun for a while.

Alabama fell 86-72 to the top-seeded Huskies, unable to contain a team that's steamrolled through this NCAA Tournament and is trying to become the first back-to-back champion since 2007. UConn will play Purdue for the national title on Monday.

“We just came up a little short tonight,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “But we came up short against a great team.”

Alabama had its moments. Mark Sears splashed home 3-pointers and made circus shots at the rim, finishing with 24 points. Nelson's stunning dunk drew the biggest roar of either Final Four game. Aaron Estrada scored 13 and even had some good-natured banter with UConn fans while guarding an inbounds pass.

The Tide certainly weren't scared. They're still heading back to Tuscaloosa a few days earlier than they had hoped.

Alabama pushed UConn more than any other team in the tournament. When Nelson — who finished with 19 points — made a short hook shot in the lane with 12:41 left, the game was tied at 56-all and the impossible suddenly seemed a little bit possible.

“They’re a great offensive team,” Huskies coach Danny Hurley said. “I mean, they’re like the hardest team to guard.”

It was a short-lived moment. The Huskies made an 8-0 run that put them ahead for good. Sears made one more long 3-pointer to cut the margin to 76-68 with 2:54 left, but Clingan responded with two dunks on the next two possessions.

“We played well, we played hard,” Estrada said. “It was just the little details where we didn't compete well enough — being mentally locked in for 40 minutes. At times, we missed assignments. All of that stuff kind of added up.”

The fact that it was an entertaining game played at high speed was no surprise. Alabama came into the game with the nation's top-scoring offense, averaging more than 90 points per game.

If anything, UConn actually made the Tide slow down a little. Alabama matched its second-lowest scoring total of the season.

“In some regards, they imposed their will on us tonight, especially with the pace of play,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “Kept getting our guys to push a little bit faster. Seemed like there was always bodies in front of us.”

The Tide opened the game hot from 3-point range, making 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half. Sears was the leading scorer before the break, scoring 11 points while making all five of his shots. Latrell Wrightsell Jr., Estrada and Rylan Griffen all hit 3-pointers.

Yet the Tide still trailed 44-40 at the break. Not a great sign.

“They're close to being bulletproof,” Oats said of the Huskies.

Defense has been a problem at times for Alabama this season. The Tide gave up 117 points to Kentucky in a particularly ugly loss on Feb. 24. They also surrendered 105 and 102 points to Florida in two losses within 11 days of each other in March.

To Alabama's credit, they've been better on that end of the court during the tournament and that trend continued on Saturday. Undersized at nearly every spot against the Huskies, they gamely fought to stay in the game.

In the end, the UConn machine proved to be unstoppable. Like a lot of other teams over the past two seasons, Alabama wasn't quite good enough.

“We just told each other we made history,” Nelson said. “Didn't end the way we wanted it to, but can't hang our heads on this season.”

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