Counting down the most unforgettable March Madness moments in the state, from robberies to defeating giants

March Madness is here, and Alabama is well represented with four teams making it to the NCAA Tournament field of 68. While only one team from the state has ever reached the Final Four, this year, Samford, UAB, Alabama, and Auburn have the opportunity to create their own One Shining Moment starting this week.

In this edition of Sensational Sports Sevens, we will be ranking the most unforgettable tournament moments involving teams from Alabama. Throughout the years, both Alabama and Auburn have had their fair share of incredible moments. However, we cannot overlook the memorable games that UAB and South Alabama have also contributed to the mix.

Now, let’s dive into the rankings.

Last year, Alabama and Auburn had the exciting opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament on their home turf. Alabama, as the top seed, and Auburn, as the ninth seed, were both assigned to open the tournament in Birmingham. Alabama seized the moment and won their two games, earning themselves a spot in the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Auburn Tigers, fueled by the support of their passionate fans, pulled off a stunning upset against Iowa with a score of 83-75. They then went on to face the formidable No. 1 seed Houston. The Tigers put up a strong fight and even had a 10-point lead at halftime, but ultimately fell short with a final score of 81-64. The atmosphere at Legacy Arena was electric, making it an unforgettable weekend of basketball for both teams.

The last major college basketball team to go undefeated was Indiana in 1976. However, their path to victory was not without controversy. In a game against Alabama, who many consider to be the best team in the state’s history, the outcome was determined by a highly questionable call. At the time, Alabama was ranked No. 6 in the country and had just defeated No. 3 North Carolina. As the game reached its closing minutes, Indiana’s star center, Kent Benson, who was already playing with four fouls, collided with Alabama’s star player, Leon Douglas. Despite the collision, Douglas was called for a blocking foul. Indiana ultimately won the game 74-69 in Baton Rouge. Reflecting on the game, Coach Bobby Knight would later admit that it was the closest the Hoosiers came to losing that season.

In 2004, Alabama made a remarkable run to the Elite 8 in the NCAA basketball tournament. The cover of Sports Illustrated captured the excitement with the headline “Sweet Alabama: The Tide Washes Stanford Out.” This unexpected victory was made even more impressive by the fact that the UAB Blazers, another Alabama team, had also defeated Kentucky. Led by star forward Chuck Davis, the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated top-seeded Stanford to advance to the Sweet 16. They then went on to beat Syracuse before ultimately falling to Connecticut in their first and only Elite 8 appearance. Unfortunately, UAB was unable to advance past the Sweet 16 the following week.

In 1989, Alabama won the SEC Tournament and made their way to Atlanta as a No. 6 seed. The team, led by Michael Ansley, Robert Horry, David Benoit, Keith Askins, Melvin Cheatum, and Alvin Lee, had been playing exceptionally well. Their first tournament opponent was South Alabama, a No. 11 seed. Despite Alabama’s 15-point halftime lead, the Jaguars, led by Junie Lewis and Jeff Hodge (also known as Peanut Butter and Jelly), put up a strong fight. In a shocking turn of events, Hodge made a deep 3-pointer with just four seconds left on an assist from Lewis, securing an 86-84 victory for the Jaguars. This remains the only NCAA Tournament win for South Alabama.

Auburn’s remarkable journey to the 2019 Final Four showcased their ability to defeat some of the most esteemed programs in college basketball. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers triumphed over New Mexico State, Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Their victory against Kentucky, with a score of 77-71 in overtime, was especially noteworthy. Jared Harper played a pivotal role, contributing 26 points and five assists to secure this historic win. To this day, Auburn remains the sole team from the state to reach the Final Four.

In 1982, UAB achieved a remarkable feat by defeating one of the sport’s greatest players, Ralph Sampson, and his No. 1 ranked Virginia team in the Elite Eight. The game took place at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, with a crowd of 16,754 fans witnessing the Blazers’ 68-66 victory. Oliver Robinson, who would later become a Birmingham city councilman, played a crucial role in the win, scoring 23 points, including two clutch free throws. Despite coach Terry Holland’s questionable decision to position Sampson, a 7-foot-4 star, on the wing for most of the game, Sampson still managed to contribute with 19 points and an impressive 21 rebounds. Reflecting on the game, UAB coach Gene Bartow acknowledged the impact of the home crowd, stating, “There is no doubt the home crowd was a factor.” Unfortunately, UAB’s journey came to an end in the following game, as they fell short against Louisville, just one game away from the Final Four.

Virginia’s missed double dribble call costs Auburn a chance at the national championship: The 2019 national championship game was marred by a missed call that ultimately robbed Auburn of their opportunity to compete for the title. While much of the post-game discussion focused on the controversial foul call that awarded Virginia’s Kyle Guy three free throws, the previous play involving Virginia’s Ty Jerome should not have been a subject of debate. Jerome committed a clear double dribble that went unnoticed by the officials, and had it been called correctly, Auburn would have likely advanced to the championship game and emerged as favorites to secure the state’s first-ever basketball national championship.

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