Add "Giant Killer" to the list of names this improbable team can claim. Stanford had lost only one game prior to the tournament, was seeded first in the Phoenix Regional, and finished the NCAA season ranked first in the nation by the Associated Press. Heading into the game essentially no one gave the Tide much of a chance, but the players hung in and pulled out a thriller.
The Tide's comeback win was all the more improbable because of its ice-cold shooting earlier in the half. Bama began the second stanza ice-cold, at one point shooting only six percent from the field. But tenacious play kept the Tide within reach. At the eight minute mark Bama was down 53-40, and at that point had made just 1-of-17 shots from the field.
Then Kennedy Winston stepped up to can a long-range jumper, igniting Bama's offense.
"The players on the bench told me ‘They're not going to block your shot. Go ahead and shoot,'" Winston recalled. "Those last several shots I just followed through like I always do, and I made them. It seemed like all of us started shooting."
Once Winston showed the way, Alabama blew up on offense. An explosion Stanford could not overcome.
"Ken came out and knocked that shot down," Earnest Shelton said. "He knocked the lid off the basket for us. Earlier in the half we had numerous shots that rimmed out. Tips, lay-ups, you pick it; we just couldn't knock shots down. But Ken blew the lid off for us. We used his shot as momentum and didn't stop playing from there."
Shelton quickly followed up Winston's three-pointer with one of his own. Chuck Davis hit four straight free throws. Antoine Pettway chipped in a three-pointer of his own. And before Stanford knew what hit them, Bama had taken a 56-53 lead with 3:58 to go. A lead it never relinquished.
In the final 7:42 of Saturday's game, Alabama missed just one field goal attempt, made three three-pointers and went 19-of-24 at the free throw line.
Winston finished the game with 21 points to lead his teammates, but perhaps his most important play came midway through Bama's run. Josh Childress, the PAC-10 Player of the Year, had just committed his fourth foul on the other end. Recognizing his vulnerability, Winston took the ball right at Childress and fouled him out of the game. The Cardinal would play the final 3:16 without the services of their All-America power forward.
Stanford held a decided advantage in post players, but somehow Alabama managed to hang in. For the game the Tide was out-rebounded 49-29, but Alabama took 44 free throws to only 24 for the Cardinal.
"We were attacking them the whole game," Shelton said, "and we didn't let up. The whole game we were going to the rim. They tried to sit back in the paint and play off you, but we didn't stop attacking. We could have just thrown our shots up from outside all night, but everybody said to attack them and try to get to the rim. We didn't stop trying to get to the rim."
Tide Assistant Coach Orlando Early said that during Bama's offensive drought the staff tried to keep the confidence level up.
"We just told them to keep battling and keep shooting the ball," Early explained. "We don't want to take anything away from Stanford, because they're a great team. But their defense didn't really cause us to miss shots. We were missing wide-open looks. We executed well (on offense); we just didn't make the shots. We told the players to keep their heads up, keep working and eventually those shots are going to fall."
For the game Alabama shot 37 percent on its field goals, including a poor 4-of-19 from beyond the 3-point. Though three of the Tide's treys came in last seven minutes. For its part Stanford shot only 36 percent, just 28 percent in the second half, 7-of-24 from 3-point land.
"What helped us stay in the game was not only were we not making many shots, but they weren't either," Early commented. "We just kept battling and stopping them on the defensive end, and eventually we knew our shots would fall."
Over the final 90 seconds it was simply a matter of hitting your foul shots, and for the most part Alabama did.
The Tide's record now stands at 19-12. Stanford ends their season at 30-2. Alabama advances to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in school history. Saturday's victory means that Bama is now 2-0 all-time versus the Cardinal. The Tide gets its first win ever over a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Saturday was the eighth time this year that the outcome of an Alabama game went to the final possession or overtime.
Alabama will head home to Tuscaloosa briefly, where the players take care of schoolwork and pack another bag before they head off to their third-round match against the Syracuse Orangemen. Depending on the outcome of two other games, the winner of that game will take on either UConn, Vanderbilt or NCState.