LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- No. 1 overall seed Alabama, which emerged as the most dominant and divisive team during a turbulent 2022-23 season, sputtered offensively and found an exit from the NCAA tournament on Friday night.
The Crimson Tide fluctuated between careless and reckless in a sloppy 71-64 loss to No. 5 seed San Diego State, as they finished the night with 14 turnovers and shot just 3 for 27 from 3-point range.
San Diego State clinched the program's first berth in the Elite Eight, led by Darrion Trammell's 21 points and an unflinching defensive resolve that ground Alabama's dreams of a first Final Four appearance into a puddle of frustration and missed shots.
"Everybody is really disappointed in the loss," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "It ended too soon."
The Aztecs have remained a consistent NCAA tournament team during coach Brian Dutcher's six seasons, and they suffocated Alabama's offense by holding the Crimson Tide to 32.4% overall shooting. The program, which consistently bellows the defiant chant of "I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN," executed that belief through stretches of tough offense and a nine-point second-half deficit.
"I'm using Muhammad Ali quotes because we're in Louisville, and we talked about confidence and the key to confidence is being fearless," Dutcher said. "I thought we were fearless tonight."
Alabama star forward Brandon Miller, a projected top-five NBA draft pick, will likely end his college career with a dismal 3-for-19 shooting night in which he took more than 12 minutes to score his first basket. He shot a combined 8 for 41 in Alabama's three NCAA tournament games.
For Alabama, the loss marks the third consecutive tournament in which the Tide have suffered a significant upset, falling to No. 11 Notre Dame as a sixth seed in the first round last year and losing in overtime to No. 11 UCLA as a No. 2 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament.
Alabama has been the sport's awkward juggernaut this year, winning the SEC and the SEC tournament and resonating as the tournament's top team on Selection Sunday. But for all of Alabama's talent and depth, it couldn't overcome an offensive quagmire in the middle of the second half. The Tide's offense is based on shooting almost exclusively layups and 3-pointers, and it has left them vulnerable to bad shooting nights.
"It's definitely tough," Miller said. "Just playing around these guys, working hard every day in practice, to fall short, I think ... it's a bad feeling now, but I feel like our bond is too close to break."
Alabama appeared to wrestle control of the game early in the second half, erasing a five-point halftime deficit by ratcheting up the tempo and finally hitting a few shots. But after leading 48-39 with 11:40 remaining, Alabama's offense disappeared.
San Diego State ran off 12 straight points, capped by an Adam Seiko 3-pointer. And with the Aztecs back in the game, Alabama fell apart.
"When we recruit, we say our goal is to win a national championship, so we can't act surprised when we have an opportunity to advance to the Final Four."San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher
Steady senior point guard Jahvon Quinerly got four shots blocked within a three-minute span in the second half and finished the game with three turnovers. Miller finished 1 for 10 from 3. And the Tide simply got pushed around at times by the sturdy SDSU frontline of Keshad Johnson (8 points, 6 rebounds), Jaedon LeDee (12 points, 6 rebounds), Micah Parrish (8 rebounds) and Nathan Mensah (8 rebounds, 5 blocks).
"We kind of let off the gas a little bit after that nine-point lead," Quinerly said. "It's tough, you know, they played a good game."
San Diego State managed to pull the upset with leading scorer Matt Bradley scoring only six points on 2-for-9 shooting, including no points in the first half. This wasn't a game where the Aztecs shot the lights out, they simply overwhelmed the Tide and turned the lights out.
SDSU took the game physically to Alabama, as the Aztecs shot 18 second-half free throws that helped slow the game and overcome their 37.7% shooting. They also eliminated transition baskets, as Alabama had zero fast-break points.
SDSU entered the game with the country's No. 6 defense and turned the game to a slog to keep it within reach, leading 28-23 at the half and keeping it at a deliberate pace. The Aztecs held Miller without a basket for the game's first 12:45, forced him into early foul trouble and mixed in a full-court press to keep Alabama out of sync. (Miller nearly picked up his third foul with nine minutes left in the first half, but the officials decided to give it to guard Mark Sears)
San Diego State beat No. 12 Charleston and No. 13 Furman en route to the Sweet 16, one of the easier paths. The Aztecs looked overwhelmingly skilled compared to those opponents and didn't appear overmatched against Alabama's deep roster of athletes and future NBA picks who conquered the SEC this season.
"When we recruit, we say our goal is to win a national championship, so we can't act surprised when we have an opportunity to advance to the Final Four," Dutcher said.
He added: "It's just not words we get them to come here. It's words we believe in."
The upset ends a promising season for Alabama that will be remembered as the rare combination of the country's most talented and contentious team.
Alabama endured a wave of bad publicity by keeping Miller, one of the best players on one of the best teams in school history, on the court after his name surfaced last month in court testimony involving the capital murder case of former Tide player Darius Miles and another man, who are charged in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Jamea Harris on Jan. 15.
A police officer testified that Miles, who was later dismissed from the team, texted Miller asking him to bring Miles' gun in the early morning hours of the shooting. Fellow freshman starter Jaden Bradley was also at the scene. Neither Miller nor Bradley has been accused of any crime, and the university has described Miller as a cooperating witness, not a suspect.
When Quinerly was asked if the lingering scrutiny surrounding the program had any impact on the loss to San Diego State, he said firmly: "No."
Oats called Alabama's 2022-23 campaign "one of the most memorable seasons ever."
"It's not easy to win the regular-season and SEC tournament in the same year and make a Sweet 16 run," he said. "It's a great group that really loves each other. They're going to be close for life."