The first round NCAA loss to the Panthers was as disappointing for this year's Crimson Tide team as the run to the Final Eight had been exhilirating for the over-achieving 2004 Bama basketball team. Thus, Alabama's season ends with a 24-8 record. It was the fourth straight NCAA Tournament for Alabama and the 18th appearance since the first Tide team made it to the tournament in 1975. Alabama's NCAA record is 19-18. Alabama has the most wins of any team in NCAA play by a team that has never reached the Final Four.
It would not be unfair to say that Alabama's performance was embarrassing. After leading 2-0 and 4-3, the Tide's day was almost over. The game was tied at 9-9 and then Milwaukee went on a 13-0 run Alabama could never overcome. Milwaukee made 10 first half three-pointers and only one of those shots was under pressure.
While Milwaukee was known as a pressing team, Alabama's turnovers for the most part were not from the press. The 19 Bama turnovers were the result of poor passes or poor decisions with the basketball.
To many, the outcome was not an upset. Milwaukee had been considered one of the likely winners in first round play against an Alabama team that played a tough schedule, but mostly built its record against a weaker-than-usual Southeastern Conference. Although Milwaukee was a 12 seed and Alabama a 5 seed, it was pointed out that this is the 19th time in the past 21 years a 12 has beaten a 5. Since 1985 there have been 27 such upsets.
Alabama trailed by 13 points at halftime, 45-32, but made a couple of second half runs. The first came in the opening moments, when Bama scored the first eight points of the second period to cut the lead to five. But the Paers took the lead back out to 10 before Alabama made another move. When Ron Steele hit a three-point shot with 13:03, Bama was back to within five. But moments later the last good chance to put pressure on Milwaukee was lost.
Kennedy Winston, who led the Tide with 20 points (which masks a very poor shooting day by the junior forward), missed a jump shot badly, but Jermareo Davidson grabbed the rebound right under the basket and went up for the layup. He was fouled and missed the shot. And then he missed two free throws, but Alabama had another chance by grabbing the rebound. And Winston would get an open three-pointer, which he missed. That was too many lost opportunities for two or three points.
The Tide then had three straight possessions that resulted in turnovers with no shot, and by the time the Tide scored again on Winston free throws the Panthers had added to their lead and subtracted from time to play.
Milwaukee started into a delay game with nearly seven minutes to play and it worked for the Panthers as Alabama too often did not get stops or allowed offensive rebounds, enabling Wisconsin to continue to either add to its score or, at worst, take away clock.
Alabama's frantic last few moments had some success with Jean Felix hitting a couple of threes and Steele getting a putback to cut the deficit to six points with a minute to play. But Bama then had two straight trips with turnovers and Milwaukee moved on to the second round, where the Panthers (25-5) will play the winner of the Boston College-Penn game.
In addition to Winston scoring 20 points, the Tide got 16 from Steele, 13 from Earnest Shelton (who made 2-7 three-pointers), and 10 from Chuck Davis. Davidson was at double figures in rebounding with 10 to go along with his 8 points. Bama had a 34-22 advantage in rebounds, but Milwaukee scored 15 second chance points, Bama only 12.
Both teams were 26-50 (52 per cent) on field goals, but Milwaukee was 12-21 (57 per cent) on three-pointers while the Tide was only 9-23 (39 per cent). Milwaukee got a lot of late free throw opportunities as Bama tried to catch up and the Panthers hit 19-28 (67.9 per cent), while Alabama was good on 12-16 (75 per cent).
Alabama had 17 assists and 19 turnovers, while the Panthers had 20 assists and only 7 turnovers. Milwaukee scored 27 points off Bama turnovers, while the Tide took advantage of Panthers' miscues for onlyu 6 points. Bama did have a 32-24 advantage on points in the paint.
The next question for Alabama will be whether Kennedy Winston returns for his senior season. Most believe the All-SEC performer will leave in hopes of making it in the NBA. The only regular for this year's team who is a senior is Earnest Shelton, so the Tide expects to return post players Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson and point guard Ron Steele.