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Crimson Tide conquers one hill, faces a mountain in top-seeded UConn

TUSCALOOSA – A national talking head told the March Madness listening crowd that the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team could make the NBA Playoffs given the right circumstances. The outlandish comment drew ridicule from his studio colleagues, but the sentiment was taken.

The defending national champion Huskies have looked that good while breezing into the NCAA Tournament Final Four.

Meanwhile, No. 4 seed Alabama advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in school history. The prize? A clash with the overall No. 1 Huskies at Saturday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

The Crimson Tide is an 11.5-point underdog. Alabama head coach Nate Oats, leaning on his school’s reputation as a “football school,” referred to a call he made to Nick Saban before an 89-82 Elite Eight win over Clemson.  

I called Coach Saban. ‘What have we got to do?’” Oats said. “And he kind of gave me the ‘next’ idea — next, next, next. So guys bought in. We can make this run. Other teams have done it. We have the capability to do it.

“We’ve got to get back to playing great defense — or start playing great defense; I don’t know if ‘back’ is the correct word. But we can have the No. 1 offense in the country; we had it for the majority of the year. Let’s put a top-20 defense together and we can make a Final Four. And I think we did that.”

UConn has beaten its opponents by 25, 30, 23, and 39 points over four NCAA Tournament games this season. Dating back to last year, the Huskies have won 10 straight NCAA Tournament games by 13 or more points — covering all 10 games.

The Alabama-UConn winner plays either another No. 1 seed in Purdue or No. 6 upstart North Carolina State for the championship Monday.

As for Oats, he’ll match wits with an old friend in Huskies head coach Dan Hurley. The latter’s dad is Bob, who hired Oats as an assistant at Buffalo. Oats followed Bob as head coach at Buffalo prior to taking the Alabama job.

“It’s ironic I get to coach against Danny,” Oats said. “I don’t know if ‘get’ is the correct word because they’ve got a pretty good team. But I’m in the Final Four and get to go against Danny who helped me get in this thing – obviously Bobby is the one who hired me.

“But the two of those guys kind of came into college together and have been great to me the whole time.”


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