Alabama embracing underdog role before facing UConn in Final Four

On3 imageby:Charlie Potter04/02/24

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Nate Oats talks Final Four before leaving for Phoenix | Alabama Basketball

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Before Nate Oats walked into the media room at Coleman Coliseum, the Alabama head coach was informed of the point spread for Saturday’s game against UConn.

The Huskies are an 11.5-point favorite in the Final Four matchup with the Crimson Tide. That is tied for the fourth-largest Final Four point spread in the last 50 years, according to Ben Fawkes, which is a note that Alabama’s players didn’t know prior to Tuesday but will now.

“We will definitely use that,” Oats said. “All the slights that everybody had going into the other games, our players took note. … I’m sure our players will see that and use it.”

The Huskies are 35-3 and have won 11 straight entering the matchup with Alabama. That includes a convincing 77-52 win over 2-seed Illinois in the Elite Eight. UConn also bested 16-seed Stetson, 9-seed Northwestern and 5-seed San Diego State before topping the Illini. The Huskies’ average margin of victory during that stretch has been 27.75 points per game.

Saturday at State Farm Stadium won’t be the first time Alabama (25-11) is an underdog in the NCAA Tournament. In its Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina, the 4-seed Crimson Tide was a 4-5-point dog but pulled off the upset of the 1 seed to advance to the Elite Eight.

After losing four of its previous six games before March Madness, Alabama has been on an impressive run through the tournament to reach its first-ever Final Four. But its toughest test of the year looms in the desert, and the Tide has an us-against-the-world mentality.

“Nobody’s gonna pick us to win,” Oats said. “We’re kind of playing with house money a little bit, if you will. We weren’t supposed to beat Clemson. We weren’t supposed to beat North Carolina. A lot of people were picking against us against Grand Canyon. 

“… We’re not gonna be picked to win, I know that, but sometimes the best team, the one that’s picked, doesn’t always win. We were the underdog against Carolina – not as big as we are now – but we figured out a way to win. I don’t think our guys are gonna relax to the point where they’re not gonna play hard and be ready to play. We played hard these last four games.

Oats continued, “We’re gonna go in playing as hard as we can, but there’s not gonna be a ton of pressure on us. We made the school’s first Final Four, we’re gonna enjoy the fact that we’re there, that there’s only four teams playing, the entire world … watching the Final Four. It’s great. But we’re gonna try to win. Every game we play, we’re gonna try to win it.”

Alabama senior forward Grant Nelson added, “I think we’ve been underdogs a lot of the year and people really doubted us, especially going into March Madness. It kind of gives us extra motivation to go out there and try to prove people wrong. It just gives us motivation, gives us another thing to work for.”

The other four Final Four games that featured larger point spreads all ended up with the favorite coming out on top. A UConn win over Alabama would make it 5-for-5, but the Tide isn’t flying to Arizona to be a punching back for the No. 1 seed and winners of 11 straight.

Revealing his interest in pro wrestling in Los Angeles, sophomore guard Rylan Griffen was asked what former matchup would compare to an Alabama upset win over the Huskies.

“I think Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan,” Griffen recalled. “Hulk Hogan was a big dog. He was like the highest, big-time dude around the WWF at the time, and Ultimate Warrior came in with a bunch of energy and beat him and he got the belt, he got the championship. Hulk Hogan, he was just laying down on the floor, hurting and stuff. 

“I would say that because Hulk Hogan is in the GOAT conversation for WWF, and UConn, they’re a really good team. They’re like the Hulk Hogan of college basketball right. Ultimate Warrior came in there and beat him, so I would say it’s like that.”

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