Tide Goes Fighting

The record will show that Alabama lost to UCLA, 62-59, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego Saturday evening. What the record can't show is the valiant effort this Crimson Tide made in the uphill battle against the powerful champions of the Pac-10, a battle Bama had to fight throughout the season.

Alabama's season is over, under ordinary circumstances an unimpressive 18-13 record. But anyone who followed the journey of this Bama has to tip its hat to Coach Mark Gottfried and the seven men who made it happen. Originally it appeared Alabama had nine men to play this season. But the Tide's best player, Chuck Davis, was lost for the year on January 7 in the first Southeastern Conference game of the year. Another player quit.

The magnificent seven carried on, all the way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And Bama took UCLA to the wire. The Bruins had to survive a Ron Steele just miss in the final eight seconds. Steele didn't miss many clutch shots this year, and he can't be blamed too much for his final effort of the night banging off the front of the rim when the Tide trailed by two points. UCLA padded the score with a final free throw with eight-tenths of a second to play.

Alabama, a big underdog tgo the Bruins, fell behind by 8-0 to start the game, but came back to take a slim lead. At halftime the game was tied at 30-30.

Alabama had another poor start in the second half as UCLA scored the first five points. Alabama did tie the score at 38-38. A moment later UCLA got the lead and the Tide could never catch up, although Bama pulled to within a point on a couple of occasions.

Bama benefitted from poor UCLA free throw shooting (the Bruins were only 4-11, all in the second half, and made only 7-9 down the stretch) and had a chance to pull out the win in the final seconds. Bama had the ball trailing 61-59. Steele worked free for a three-point shot, but the effort was just short. UCLA grabbed the rebound to seal the victory and the Sweet 16 berth against Gonzaga in Oakland next week.

As so often has been the case this year, sophomore point guard Steele had the game on his shoulders in the final minutes. Jermareo Davidson would get 12 points but only two rebounds as he sat out much of the game in foul trouble, Jean Felix, the hero of the first round game, was 0-4 on three-point shots and had only five points. True freshmen played well, Richard Hendrix scoring 12 points and pulling down 9 rebounds, Alonzo Gee scoring nine points.

But the Alabama story was Steele. He hit for 21 points, 12 in the first half and six in the final 2:03.

For UCLA, which won its ninth straight game, Jordan Farmar scored 18 points, including five 3-pointers, Arron Afflalo had 13 points and Ryan Hollins 12. UCLA is going to the regional tournament for the first time since 2002.

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