NCAA West Regional is a West Coast success

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – The beauty of the NCAA Tournament was on full display. The electricity of March Madness was in the building. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight college basketball games played in downtown Los Angeles were a welcomed spectacle.

Hosted by Pepperdine University, the NCAA West Regional matchups between Alabama and Arizona and North Carolina playing against Clemson illustrated that college basketball is alive and well.

University of North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis at a press conference prior to his team playing Clemson in a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament games. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“I would say for me, personally, just making the tournament. I’ve been in college for five years, and this is my first NCAA Tournament, “So, I would just say the whole experience for myself is memorable,” University of Alabama guard Aaron Estrada of Alabama said about the tournament’s most memorable moment.

Men’s college basketball was supposed to be dead in the water with many superstar talent leapfrogging to the professional level after a year in school. Just looking at the four teams competing in their own mini-tournament, that’s not the case.

There’s plenty to be excited about. The second takeaway from this West Coast basketball smorgasbord is that the feverish environment of March Madness is not comparable to any other experience.

Even if the four participants played in an arena that did not have the usual bevy of rowdy backdrop they’re used to seeing, there was still a lot of home-cooking support going on.

Outside of Arizona, which competed in the Pac-12 Conference, Alabama, North Carolina, and Clemson, all hail from the southern region of the United States.

Yet, in both the Sweet 16 matchups and in the Elite Eight, where Alabama toppled Clemson to advance to the Final Four, Arena was packed. The three games played there ahead of Easter weekend did not disappoint.

“We’ve played in tough places coming into this game knowing we were going to have a good amount of fans,” Clemson forward P.J. Hall said on his team playing in a pro-Arizona background.

In an electrifying atmosphere, Arena was rocking on the first day of the NCAA West Regional. Tension was palpable as two intense matchups unfolded on March 28.

The showdowns featured No. 2 Arizona facing off against No. 6 Clemson, and No. 1 North Carolina taking on No. 4 Alabama.

As March Madness unfolds, its inherent unpredictability adds layers of excitement to each matchup. In a thrilling display of resilience, Alabama secured an 89-87 upset victory over North Carolina, navigating through the ebbs and flows of the game with precision.

Meanwhile, Clemson capitalized on their opponent’s struggles with three-point shooting, securing a hard-fought 77-72 triumph against Arizona.

Throughout the college basketball season, Alabama’s offense has consistently delivered powerful performances while its defense has added an element of humor to the mix.

Sam Walters of Alabama applies the defense on Clemson forward PJ Hall. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Alabama head coach Nate Oats expressed satisfaction with his team’s performance, noting the strategic decision to match 6-foot-10 forward Grant Nelson against 6-foot-1 freshman guard Elliot Cadeau as pivotal in their victory.

Oats emphasized the importance of leveraging matchups to gain an advantage, highlighting Nelson’s role in asserting control on the court and contributing to the team’s success.

“Nelson took this game and put it on his back,” Oats said. “We had a plan to put him on Cadeau and this let Grant’s game flow perfectly and in a tight game like this, we drove right through.”

Forward Grant Nelson demonstrated resilience after facing adversity in the initial and subsequent rounds hosted in Spokane, Washington, by delivering an impressive performance, tallying 24 points.

Guards Rylan Griffen and Aaron Estrada also made significant contributions, each adding 19 points in the win for the Crimson Tide. However, it was the seasoned All-SEC guard Mark Sears, scoring 18 points, who orchestrated the crucial play that propelled Alabama into the lead for good.

Despite the hostile environment, the Tigers built a 29-16 lead in the first half thanks to their stifling defense and efficient offense. Yet, Arizona battled back to earn its first lead with 14:32 remaining in the game.

The Tigers continued their stifling defensive effort Thursday, flustering Arizona to shoot contested jumpers and make nine turnovers.

Clemson guard Chase Hunter (1) brings the ball up the court against North Carolina by the Crimson Tide. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

In a remarkable achievement, Clemson advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1980. Leading the charge for Clemson was Chase Hunter, who contributed 18 points in the team’s upset victory.

Ian Schieffelin also made significant contributions with 11 points and six rebounds. Joe Girard III added 13 points, including crucial free throws in the game’s final moments to secure a six-point lead for the Tigers.

Despite battling foul trouble, PJ Hall scored 11 points in 19 minutes before fouling out with 36.2 seconds remaining.

Arizona marked for one of their worst performances of the year from the 3-point line, going 5 of 28 with leading scorer Caleb Love missing all nine triples in a 5-of-18 effort from the field.

The Wildcats shot 37.3 percent and had only three players score in double figures, dropping to 0-6 when fewer than four got to 10 points.

“I feel like some of them were good looks and shots we’ve made all season, and today they just didn’t go in,” said Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd. “To have that sort of shooting night and get yourself in the game where you have a position to win, I think it’s incredible. And it just shows the resiliency and toughness of these guys.”

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