Alabama was a pre-season pick to go nowhere. Now the Crimson Tide is deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any Bama basketball team in history. Alabama eliminated last year's national champion, Syracuse, 80-71, in a Sweet 16 game in Phoenix Thursday night. Now Alabama is in the Elite Eight and will face Connecticut in Phoenix Saturday. Tipoff will be at 3:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by CBS. Connecticut blasted Vanderbilt, 73-53, to advance to Saturday's game. The loss by Vandy left Bama as the only Southeastern Conference team still alive in the national championship tournament.
A win over the Huskies Saturday would put Alabama in the Final Four in San Antonio next weekend.
The victory was Alabama's 20th of the year. Bama entered the tournament with a 17-12 record and has now defeated Southern Illinois, number one ranked Stanford, and defending national champion Syracuse in the tournament. Alabama has not been ranked in this year's polls.
Chuck Davis came alive in the second half to lead the Alabama effort. Although Earnest Shelton was Bama's leading scorer with 22 points, Davis scored 15 of his 19 points in the final 15 minutes of the game. Kennedy Winston had 19 points and five assists, Antoine Pettway 10 points and six assists.
Alabama had 20 assists on its 26 field goals. Both Bama and Syracuse hit 26 field goals, Alabama in 52 attempts for 50 percent, Syracuse in 57 attempts, 45.6 percent. But Alabama had more points from the field on the strength of nine three-point shots in 22 attempts (40.9 percent) to Syracuse's 5-15 for 33.3 per cent. Alabama had a nice advantage in free throws, hitting 14 of 23 (81.6 per cent) to Syracuse's 14-20 (70 percent).
Alabama was beaten decisively on the backboards, pulling down only 20 rebounds while Syracuse claimed 31 caroms. That was offset to some extent by Alabama having only 10 turnovers while forcing 19 miscues by Syracuse. Alabama's leading rebounders were Davis, Shelton and Evan Brock. Each had a paltry four boards.
The game seemed to change after Tide Coach Mark Gottfried was whistled for a technical foul. Although Syracuse hit a free throw to tie the game at 38-38, Alabama then went on a 15-4 run with Davis getting eight of his points in the eight-minute run. Syracuse came back to tie the game at 55-55 and again at 57-57. But Alabama then went on a 12-2 run to take a 10-point lead into the final five minutes.
Bama had led by as many as eight points in the early going of the first half and finished the opening stanza with a 38-36 halftime lead. Gottfried said, "It means a lot. When I came to Alabama the goal was the national championship. I hope we've got more basketball to play."