Alabama, Clemson mirror March Madness

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (News4usonline) – You know things are crazy when you have two known football schools playing in the round of the Elite Eight. The men’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games were a reminder of why we love March Madness. 

The tournament games are always filled with high drama. Tense moments come without saying. Players not shying away from big moments have become routine. Upsets are a given. Fans going bonkers over one clutch play after another feed into the feverish hype officially known as the NCAA Tournament.

With Clemson toppling Arizona and Alabama knocking off North Carolina, the madness made its way to Los Angeles. The two games between these four basketball powerhouses gave fans from all the teams involved the jitters. 

University of Alabama student-athletes addressed the media a day before the Crimson Tide played North Carolina in a NCAA Tournament West Region basketball game at Arena. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Uncertainty is part of the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. Being a high-ranking seed means nothing when March comes around. A team’s destination in the championship round requires good coaching, great talent, and a bit of luck.     

All four teams had those attributes riding with them. For Arizona and North Carolina, the journey is now over. But the Wildcats and Tar Heels made the Sweet 16 worth watching. 

In the first game of a double-header in downtown Los Angeles, No. 6 Clemson got off to a fast start and pinned second-seeded Arizona with a 77-72 defeat. 

After mounting a double-digit lead early in the first half, the Tigers had to withstand a couple of furious rallies by the Wildcats in the second half. Clemson withstood Arizona’s fury to advance to the round of the Elite Eight.

 Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said it was not a surprise to him that Arizona would come out and make a couple of runs. 

“We talked about it at halftime,” Brownell said. “Guys, they’re going to make another run or two. And we’ve used the phrase “we’re built for this, we can handle this.” We have confidence in our team. We’ve won some big-time road games this year. 

“We’ve played a very challenging schedule — again, my point that the ACC is much better than everybody maybe assumes is bearing fruit again. And I just think the league prepares us for these kinds of games. And I’ve got an older team. These guys have seen a lot, done a lot and experienced success. And so just really happy that they were able to withstand it, and we executed some things really well down the stretch,” he added. 

The biggest difference in the ballgame was shooting percentage from the field. Clemson shot a more than decent 49 percent from the field. Arizona couldn’t hit a bucket next to a wall, converting just 37 percent of their attempts from the field. 

Compounding their shooting woes, the Wildcats were miserable from 3-point range. Arizona made 5 of 28 of its 3-point shot attempts against sixth-seeded Clemson. Shooting at a 17 percent rate from long distance proved to be the undoing for the Wildcats, the No. 2 seed in the West region. 

“I thought Clemson did a good job and kind of got us on our heels offensively early in the game,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “And we settled for a lot of tough shots. And then that’s what kind of allowed them to get out. Because I think our defense was actually okay early — low scoring early and we were right there.” 

At one point during their comeback, the Wildcats managed to take the lead a couple of times. Clemson didn’t wilt. The Tigers calmly responded to Arizona’s attempts to take over the game. But the Wildcats sure made it one heck of a game with their resilience. 

North Carolina head basketball coach Hubert Davis speaks to the media during a press conference at Arena on March 27, 2024. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“We harp on toughness,” Arizona guard Jaden Bradley said. “In the beginning, we weren’t so tough, but I feel at the end we did a great job battling and trying to get stops. But Clemson did a great job with their plays and their shot-making, and we couldn’t really get over the hump. We had the lead a couple times but they kept battling as well.”

Battle is something Alabama did against top-seeded North Carolina. In a high-scoring game, The Crimson Tide outdueled the Tar Heels in the second half to come away victorious. Down big in the first half, No. 4 Alabama outscored North Carolina 43-33 to earn an 89-87 win in a wild nightcap. 

“Our guys showed some character,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “They’ve been showing some character these last three games. We’ve been questioned all year on defense, probably rightfully so, but our defense showed up particularly in the second half. We had a game plan.” 

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis said the Crimson Tide came up with the plays they needed to win. On the other hand, his ballclub did not, Davis stated during a postgame press conference.  

“I mean, always in the closing minutes, it comes down to a play here or there,” Davis remarked. “I’ve talked all season about the little details that make big things happen, not just necessarily shots — rebounds, free throws, loose balls. At the end of the day, they made down the stretch more plays than us. And unfortunately, we came out on the short end.”

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