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Alabama falls to the UConn machine in the Final Four, but the Tide certainly made it fun for a while


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Alabama got the kind of game it wanted in its first Final Four appearance on Saturday night.

No, it wasn't enough to beat mighty UConn. The Tide fell 86-72 to the top-seeded Huskies, unable to contain a team down the stretch that's steamrolled through this NCAA Tournament and is trying to become the first back-to-back champion since 2007.

But they sure made it fun for a while.

Mark Sears splashed home 3-pointers and made circus shots at the rim, finishing with 24 points. Grant Nelson threw down a poster-worthy dunk over 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan in the second half. Aaron Estrada scored 13 and even had some good-natured banter with UConn fans while guarding an in-bounds pass.

Even so, the Tide are heading back to Tuscaloosa a few days earlier than they had hoped.

Alabama pushed UConn more than any other team in the tournament. When Nelson — who finished with 19 points — made a short hookshot in the lane with 12:41 left, the game was tied at 56-all and the impossible suddenly seemed a little bit possible.

It was a short-lived moment. The Huskies made an 8-0 run that put them ahead for good. Sears made one more long 3-pointer to cut the margin to 76-68 with 2:54 left, but Clingan responded with two dunks on the next two possessions to seal the win.

The fact is was an entertaining game played at breakneck speed was no surprise. Alabama came into the game with the nation's top-scoring offense, averaging more than 90 points per game.

The Tide opened the game hot from 3-point range, making 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half. Sears was the leading scorer before the break, scoring 11 points while making all five of his shots. Latrell Wrightsell Jr., Estrada and Rylan Griffen all hit 3-pointers.

Yet the Tide still trailed 44-40 at the break. Not a great sign.

Defense has been a problem at times for Alabama this season. The Tide gave up 117 points in a particularly ugly loss on Feb. 24. They also surrendered 105 and 102 points to Florida in two losses within 11 days of each other in March.

To Alabama's credit, they've been better on that end of the court during the tournament and that trend continued on Saturday. Undersized at nearly every spot against the Huskies, they gamely fought to stay in the game.

In the end, the UConn machine proved to be unstoppable.


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness