ALABAMA SWEEPS THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Alabama’s wheelchair basketball team, both men’s and women’s, took the nine-hour 622 mile road trip to Champaign, Illinois to compete in the NIWBT (National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament). All the while, as the No. 2 seed. Nobody expected Alabama to win, let alone be competitive. But they were. Having a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, being an underdog was the perfect fit.
Two weeks prior, nobody thought they’d be in this position after the men’s and women’s team struggled. The men lost in the UA Early College Collegiate Classic to the University of Texas-Arlington 78-66, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 90-77. The women fell to the University of Texas-Arlington 70-64. A case of being outplayed physically, and mentally, everyone had counted the Crimson Tide out. That was everyone except themselves.
Everyone loves to see Alabama lose; it doesn’t matter the sport when Alabama goes down; everyone is happy. The players knew that the coaches knew that, and the Alabama faithful knew it. The Crimson Tide came in the tournament with a chip on its shoulder.
As the tournament started, the women’s team made a statement after a back-and-forth battle with the University of Illinois in the first half. The Crimson Tide’s defense stepped up only allowing two points in the first four minutes of the third quarter and six total. It was the same storyline in the fourth quarter only allowing 11 points, winning the game 55-32.
The men found themselves in a tight game with No. 7 seed SMSU (Southwest Minnesota State University). Leading the Crimson Tide was senior Michael Auprince scoring 36 points, but despite that Alabama found themselves trailing to the Mustangs. After two quick turnovers and a foul by freshman Spencer Kimbro, the Crimson Tide grabbed its first lead of the game 23-21 with 8:21 remaining in the first half. With just under a minute left Alabama led by double-digits to win 77-65.
As the women cruised to the national championship against the University of Texas-Arlington, the men had one more game against the University of Texas-Arlington.
It only fitted these two teams would meet in the semifinal, throughout the week both sides tried to get in each other’s head. Both chirping, and emotions running high; it is the type of game fans want in March.
This time, however, the script was flipped. Alabama started fast and never slowed down. Beginning with a 4-0 run, and leading 11-6 at the first timeout, the Crimson Tide was in control. Later in the game, the Movin’ Mavs went on a 7-0 run, but Alabama answered with one of its own. The players stuck to their assignments stayed home on defense and advanced to the title game with a 75-59 win.
All week everyone talked about how the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was the team to beat, and how senior Dylan Fischbach was playing lights out. Well, they were right; Fischbach was playing out of his mind, but nobody talked about Alabama’s discipline and its defensive abilities down the stretch in tight games.
Throughout the national championship game, Fischbach finished 11-of-25, all eleven shots being from beyond the arc finishing with 33 points. Majority of his points came in the first ten minutes of the first half, and the last five minutes of the second half, Alabama made it very difficult for Fischbach to find the open shot.
It was a showcase of grit, aggression, and discipline.
Graduate student DeQuel Robinson led the Crimson Tide’s winning efforts scoring 28 points and grabbing seven rebounds, with 14 assists. As there were seven lead changes and three ties throughout the contest, it was Robinson’s voice along with Auprince that echoed throughout the State Farm Center leading the communication on the court.
With 29 seconds left on the clock, the players on the bench all gathered together–arms locked anticipating storming the court. When the clock hit double zeros, they did just that.
The Alabama men’s team was back-to-back champions.
Off in the corner was the women’s team, lined up in the tunnel waiting their turn at glory. Next to them was the Movin’ Mavs, the team who had beaten them two weeks earlier and were on a four-game win streak over the Crimson Tide since last year’s championship game. None of that mattered.
It was 6-0 two minutes into the game, and Alabama looked outmatched. Quickly after a timeout, the Crimson Tide went on a 6-0 run of its own to tie it at 6-6. Fighting from behind for the majority of the first quarter, Alabama grabbed its first lead with 39 seconds left in the quarter 14-12.
After grabbing a 10-point lead before halftime, sophomore Kate Lang got injured. With a hurt hand, Lang still finished with 26 points. The performance showed toughness and her willingness to fight for the team.
Throughout the fourth quarter, it was a back-and-forth game. Making it tough for the Crimson Tide was Movin’ Mavs senior Rose Hollermann scoring 40 points. Junior Sarah Maynard’s transition game, Lang’s toughness and junior Arinn Young’s ability to make plays when needed allowed the Crimson Tide to get the momentum. All under a minute, the Movin’ Mavs took the lead 67-65, and Young tied the game with two seconds left.
In overtime, Alabama attacked quickly and never looked back. After Movin’ Mavs senior Abby Dunkin fouled out, the Crimson Tide took a seven-point lead with just under a minute left; the championship was right there in front of them.
Call it revenge, call it payback from the games before playing the Movin’ Mavs, Alabama was locked in on winning a championship. When the men’s team was loading the buses to head out on Tuesday, the women’s team was on the court practicing using every second they could.
It’s a bittersweet ending to the season; nobody expected the teams to go this deep in the tournament, let alone win it. But they did. The Alabama women’s team won its sixth title since 2009, and the men won its third since 2013, adding back-to-back titles to its resume. It’s the first time in program history the men’s and women’s team won in the same year.
Now, two crystal ball’s are back in Tuscaloosa, and the Crimson Tide prevailed when nobody thought they could. Robinson and Young were named championship game MVP’s, and for the seniors– it’s a sweet goodbye!