Alabama Basketball brings uncharacteristic defensive effort to second half of Sweet 16 win

Alabama v North Carolina
Alabama v North Carolina / Harry How/GettyImages

Alabama Basketball has been scrutinized all season for its defensive effort…or lack thereof. 

Bama’s defense has been poor essentially from the start, with multiple subpar performances throughout the month of November. It never really improved, despite constant public pleas from Nate Oats. 

The group seemingly hit rock bottom when it embarrassingly surrendered 117 points at Kentucky on a day the Wildcats could’ve scored even more.

After Alabama’s conference tournament loss to Florida, it held a 21-11 record and had given up at least 80 points in all 11 losses, including 100+ in three of its last four defeats. This trend even continued into the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as Alabama outpaced College of Charleston easily but allowed 96 points. 

It appeared to maybe flip a switch in a 72-61 second round win over Grand Canyon, but that was a sloppy game against a mid-major opponent that did not do much to sway the critics of Alabama’s defense.

Tale of two halves in L.A.

The first half of Bama’s historic Sweet 16 win over North Carolina looked like a rerun of an all-too-familiar movie.

The game was largely played at the Tide’s preferred frenetic pace, and both teams were sizzling offensively. As other elite offenses have done all season, the Tar Heels were beating Alabama at its own game. UNC took a 54-46 halftime lead, and it looked like Bama might once again lose a race to 100.

The second half was a different story entirely. Alabama found a defensive gear that it hasn’t shown all season, holding the Tar Heels to 33 points on inefficient shooting splits. 

Perhaps more importantly, Bama buckled down in crunch time. When the top-seeded Heels needed a bucket most, Rylan Griffen’s length helped to shut down first-team All-American RJ Davis. The Tide’s help defenders sagged off of non-shooters on the wing and repeatedly forced Carolina into uncomfortable situations and low percentage shots.

Lastly, Grant Nelson, who was also Bama’s top offensive weapon, proved to be a key chess piece on the defensive end of the floor. Nelson thrived as the versatile, switchable, rim-protecting big he was billed as when Alabama signed him out of the transfer portal last offseason.

If the Crimson Tide has truly made a defensive transition and is now capable of playing complementary basketball, it can beat anybody in this tournament.

The Tide’s looming Elite 8 matchup against Clemson will be difficult; the Tigers beat Alabama in Coleman Coliseum back in November, and are back to playing their best ball after a lull through ACC play. Still, a 6-seed and a familiar opponent is about as favorable a matchup as Alabama Basketball could ask for this late in the Dance.

The Crimson Tide is one revenge win away from advancing to the first Final Four in school history, and it looks to have finally found itself on the defensive end of the floor.