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Alabama eyes path to victory over UConn

One heroic Mark Sears performance later, the Alabama Crimson Tide has made it to the Final Four for the first time in program history. They face their toughest challenge of the season on Saturday, taking on the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The odds are stacked against Nate Oats’ group. At the time of writing, Vegas pegs UConn as 12-point favorites over Alabama, the largest spread in a Final Four game since Gonzaga was favored by 14 over UCLA in 2021.

The Huskies boast NBA-level talent throughout their roster, with projected lottery picks Stephon Castle and Donovan Clingan running the show. Castle is a dangerous playmaker who racked up a double-double in the Huskies’ Sweet Sixteen win over San Diego State, while Clingan is a monstrous center who has a total of 44 points and 14 blocks over UConn’s last three games.

Offense is UConn’s calling card. Last Friday, the Huskies scored 82 points against a vaunted SDSU defense, demolishing the Aztecs to advance to the Elite Eight. Two days later, UConn rattled off 30 consecutive second-half points to bury Illinois. The defending champions have won each of their tournament games by at least 17.

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Nevertheless, pundits see a path to victory for the Tide. On Sunday night, college basketball media network Field of 68 hosted a discussion of the matchup featuring veteran reporters Rob Dauster and Jeff Goodman alongside former NBA player Randolph Childress.

“UConn [is] going to be double-digit favorites,” said Dauster. “But I do think there are some matchup things that can make this a little bit difficult.”

The panel agreed that the Crimson Tide will have trouble defending all of UConn’s weapons. 

“I don’t see Alabama being able to hold UConn under 90. I think they’re going to have to get this thing into triple digits to be able to have a chance,” said Dauster.

However, the Husky attack isn’t without its weaknesses. Childress pointed out the most evident flaw in UConn’s offense — three-point shooting.

“They’re shooting it at over 50% from the floor, [but] they’re not shooting it well from three,” said Childress, noting UConn’s 17.6% three-point percentage against Illinois. “I’m taking my chances [if I’m Alabama].”

“I’m packing it in. If you beat me making threes, I’m going to lose,” he continued. “I’m sagging off, late contesting guys.”

RELATED: Alabama headed to Final Four after beating Clemson

The analysts’ plan for Alabama’s offense? Fight fire with fire, get out in transition, and fire away from beyond the arc.

“They gotta shoot 40 to 45 percent from three and they gotta play up-tempo as much as they can and try to control the pace,” said Goodman.

“If I’m Nate Oats, I’m trying to trade threes for twos,” said Dauster. “Get as many open threes as possible by playing five-out, and if that means you have to give up Donovan Clingan post-ups around the basket and fight for every offensive rebound, it is what it is.”

Dauster went on to say that he expected the Tide to run lineups with Jarin Stevenson or Grant Nelson playing center in order to draw Clingan away from the basket.

“As crazy as this sounds, I think they have the shooters to do something like go 22-50 from three. I think that’s what it would take to beat UConn if you’re Alabama,” said Dauster.

“If they can knock down threes and force Clingan to have to guard and get in rotations, things could get interesting. But they gotta shoot the three-ball well,” added Childress.

Charles Vaughan is a Sports Analyst and Contributing Writer for Yellowhammer News.

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