Tale of Two Stars as Alabama Upsets UNC

Alabama Crimson Tide fans can put off turning their attention to spring football for at least another few days. Alabama is heading to the Elite 8 on Saturday, thanks to their win Thursday night over No. 1 seed North Carolina.

For Alabama, this is just their second trip to the Elite 8, their first since 2004, and they now sit one win away from the first Final Four in the history of Alabama men’s basketball.

“We’ve been criticized all year for our defense, and probably rightfully so,” said Alabama head coach Nate Oats. “Our defense showed up in the second half. Grant showed up.”

Grant is Grant Nelson, who transferred to Alabama this year after three years at North Dakota State. In his career at North Dakota State, he averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game. In the biggest game of his life, and against one of the biggest names in all of college basketball, he scored 24 points, pulled in 12 rebounds, and recorded five blocked shots.

“I couldn’t be happier for Grant,” said Oats. “But did I expect 24, 12, and five?”

From North Dakota to Beating North Carolina

Nelson scored a total of six points in Alabama’s first two NCAA Tournament wins, and the Devil’s Lake, North Dakota native had two total rebounds in the two games. Alabama came into the tournament having lost three of four games, and it was incredible that they were advancing in spite of his poor play.

It’s now impossible to picture them beating North Carolina, or their next opponent, Clemson, without big games from the 6-foot-11 senior.

He was 6-for-9 from the floor on Thursday, 2-for-2 from the three-point line, and he was the difference in the final minutes of the win. Trailing by one point with less than a minute left, he dropped in a layup, got fouled, and made the free throw to make it 87-85, Alabama.

On the other end, he blocked an off-balance shot by Tar Heel star R.J. Davis, and the second attempt by Davis missed the rim and resulted in a shot clock violation with 8.6 seconds left. Two more free throws by Nelson, and that was all she wrote. 

Alabama went into the weekend at +450 to win the region and move on to the Final Four. Now they’re paying -165 on the moneyline to cut down the nets in Los Angeles and go to Glendale, Arizona and the Final Four.

R.J. Davis’ Nightmare

As great as Nelson was, and as good as the Alabama defense played, North Carolina still wins the game if ACC Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American R.J. Davis doesn’t face plant in the game.

The numbers for Davis are shocking. He was 4-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-9 from three-point range. It was the first time all season that he didn’t make at least one three-point shot in a game. In the first two rounds, he shot 50% from three (7-for-14) and was 15-for-28 from the floor.

Even when North Carolina lost to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament, Davis was great, chipping in with 30 points, six rebounds, and five assists. But this loss and this failure to get the Tar Heels past the Sweet 16 will rest on his shoulders.

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