Originally created 03/28/04

Upstart Alabama finally meets its match against UConn



PHOENIX -- Upstart Alabama played the country's second-toughest schedule and beat some of college basketball's most high-profile programs in reaching a regional final for the first time.

The Crimson Tide was finally overmatched against Connecticut.

UConn's pinpoint perimeter shooters and athletic big men proved to be too much as Alabama lost 87-71 to the second-seeded Huskies in the Phoenix Regional final Saturday.

Still, with the big wins during the NCAA tournament and a surprising run to the regional final, this will be a season to remember for the overachieving 'Bama bunch.

First, the Tide (20-13) shocked No. 1 Stanford to get to Phoenix, then it toppled defending champion Syracuse. Alabama - a school long defined by its success on the football field - is now on the basketball map.

In his sixth season at his alma mater, coach Mark Gottfried got the Tide further in the postseason than it had ever been before.

"I'm very, very proud of our guys," Gottfried said. "I thought even when they were down they kept fighting. We just could not make a run without them answering every one we made.

"They're an excellent basketball team. You've got to remember they've beaten just about everybody in this tournament by 15, 18 points. They're for real."

Senior Alabama point guard Antoine Pettway, the former walk-on who emerged as 'Bama's emotional leader, matched his season low with just one point against UConn. Pettway only attempted two shots, but grabbed five rebounds and had four assists in his final game.

"We made history. No team in Alabama had ever done what we did," said Pettway, who opted not to wear his signature shiny red shoes because he'd slipped too much in them last game. "A lot of people didn't expect us to do it. We made it to the Elite Eight. We could have gone farther, but it is what it is."

Before tipoff, he stood alone under the arena's north basket and stared while Connecticut methodically went through its pregame routine. Pettway smiled and soaked it all in, certainly aware his team's magical run could come to an end within hours.

Sophomore forward Chuck Davis became a national name this postseason, with his Sports Illustrated cover and his clutch performances.

He had another big game Saturday, but it wasn't enough.

Davis, wearing his trademark white head band and serious expression, played the entire 40 minutes, finishing with a career-high 24 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot for the eighth-seeded Crimson Tide - the lowest remaining seed in the tournament.

Davis made his first two baskets before star UConn center Emeka Okafor blocked his next shot, a series of three straight rejections by Okafor.

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Davis went from playing 13 games and averaging 1.5 points in 6.6 minutes as a freshman last season to becoming one of 'Bama's brightest young stars.

He averaged 11.5 points this season and scored in double figures in his last eight games.

The emergence of Davis was a big factor in the Crimson Tide advancing this far, and every starter is back next season but Pettway. That means this team should be around again come tournament time 2005 - ready to start a new roll.

"I think these guys got a taste of what it's like and they could possibly win it all," Pettway said.