Alabama ousts Syracuse, 80-71

Defending champs KO'd in Sweet 16 matchup

UConn is next for Tide

Ncaa Regional

Phoenix

March 26, 2004|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

PHOENIX - Alabama, a football-crazed school that never had advanced to an Elite Eight NCAA tournament game, soundly defeated defending national champion Syracuse, 80-71, last night to move into tomorrow's regional final against Connecticut.

"It means a lot to me because I played at Alabama," Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. "I told our team, `I'm 40 years old and there is nothing I can do about [not contending for a national title].' I am excited we have taken a step, and hopefully we're not done."

While No. 8 seed Alabama (20-12) was in unknown territory, fifth-seeded Syracuse (23-8) was trying to gingerly trace its NCAA championship steps from just a year ago.

The Crimson Tide managed to knock off No. 1 seed Stanford in Seattle on Saturday and the defending national champion Orangemen at America West Arena last night in a whirlwind week.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was trying to become the first coach with consecutive NCAA titles since Duke's Mike Krzyzewski in the early 1990s. He has produced 20 or more wins in 26 of 28 seasons.

"This team accomplished more this year than last year's team, given what we had talent-wise," Boeheim said. "This team has been tremendous. We have no seniors in our starting lineup. I am at least as proud of this team as I was of last year's team."

Alabama's Earnest Shelton scored 22 points, and Kennedy Winston and Chuck Davis each added 19 points to keep Syracuse at bay. Alabama and Connecticut had never met in basketball.

"We will sit down and do our homework on Connecticut," Gottfried said.

Alabama was raining three-pointers in the first half, going 8-for-15 from long range. Winston and Shelton each made three of six first-half three-pointers to put the pressure on Syracuse.

"We got out early, lighting them up because they were clamping up inside," Winston said.

The Orangemen remained close, thanks mainly to the 15 first-half points of junior forward Hakim Warrick and freshman reserve Louie McCroskey (seven in the first half).

But Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara, who had scored 43 points, including a school-record nine three-pointers, in an opening-round victory over Brigham Young, struggled from the field early against Alabama and had just four points at the half. Warrick and McNamara entered the game as the highest-scoring teammates in this year's tournament, combining for 51 points a game.

McNamara would regroup in the second half and finish with a game-high 24 points, but Warrick scored just six second-half points.

"We couldn't let McNamara come out and have one of his 40-point games," Davis said. "Antoine Pettway did a great job guarding him."

Alabama hit four of its first five three-point attempts to start the game to take a 14-6 advantage.

Syracuse had beaten No. 12 seed Brigham Young, 80-75, and No. 4 seed Maryland, 72-70, to advance to last night's Phoenix Regional semifinal.

Alabama had beaten No. 9 Southern Illinois, 65-64, and No. 1 Stanford, 70-67.

"I am really proud of our team. They have been so determined," Gottfried said. "We beat a pretty good basketball team."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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