Everything Nate Oats had to say following Alabama's loss to UCLA in NCAA Tournament
Alabama’s historic basketball season has come to an end as the Tide fell to UCLA 88-78 in overtime of the Sweet Sixteen of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Here is everything head coach Nate Oats had to say following the game.
Oats’ opening statement:
Really proud of our team. First off, give a lot of credit to UCLA. I mean, I have a ton of respect for Coach Cronin. We go all the way back to when I was a high school coach, played against him twice now. His teams are always tough, well prepared, hard-nosed. They were that tonight.
We weren’t good enough to beat them tonight. They were better. They hit some tough shots. Give a lot of credit to their players too. Shoot, Jaquez and Bernard were great. I thought Campbell was good. They stepped to the line and made their free throws and got stops when they needed to. They could have definitely — we had all the momentum going in overtime. They could have folded. They didn’t, kind of punched us in the mouth to start overtime.
Give a lot of credit to UCLA. As far as our guys go, I’d say it’s a historic season. I don’t want them to walk out of this locker room with their heads down. You can make the argument we’re one of the best, if not the best, Alabama basketball teams in history. I mean, won the SEC regular season, the tournament. There’s all kinds of records that were taking place.
These seniors, you think about Petty, Reese, Herb Jones, what they’ve meant to the program. They didn’t have to stick around and be coached by a guy that didn’t recruit them. They didn’t have to buy into everything we were trying to sell. They did. You know, Tyler Barnes, a walk-on, he’s one of the best kids I’ve ever met. I love him. He’s huge for the culture of this program. You add in a kid like Jordan Bruner, who turned down a lot of really good basketball programs to come try to change Alabama basketball, and he did that. He helped our culture a lot.
So you talk about those five seniors, couldn’t be happier for those guys, for what we were able to do their senior year. And the guys that are underclassmen and will be back, and let’s not forget this feeling. We’re a lot better team than this. You’ve got to be great every night in March. It’s a one-game elimination tournament. The best team doesn’t always win. The team that plays best that night wins, but it’s not always the best team.
So really happy with the season, really proud of the guys, really disappointed with tonight.
Question: Coach, slow start to the game. Slow start to the overtime. Anything that you noticed that caused that? And how were you all able to overcome it in the game and couldn’t do it in the overtime?
NATE OATS: That’s a good question. You know, the slow start to the game, I don’t know. We were in the game for a while. I thought it was the close to the first half —
Question: Yeah, last two minutes —
NATE OATS: Yeah, I think the start to the game was awful. It wasn’t our best, obviously, but it was a little slow. We were able to — it was a pretty tight first half. I thought the close to the first half was awful. I think they ended the first half on an 18-4 run, after we were up 25-22. So I thought we closed the first half poorly.
I thought we opened the second half really ready to go. We put Reese in there. For whatever reason, I’d only gotten him just over three minutes in the first half, which I didn’t like. He’s been a great kid. I mean, I cannot say enough about Reese’s character as a senior this year.
So I thought he could give us a lift. He did. We were good early in the second half with him in there. Nothing against anybody else, but I wanted to give him a shot. I thought he played well in those three minutes, and they were playing small. We knew they would start Riley. So we started Reese. That’s a better matchup for him.
Then the start to the overtime, we give up that three out of the gate. I didn’t think we needed the help. We did. It was a tough one. Then they scored the second time, and it just kind of built up. We answered a little bit to cut it. I think we cut it from seven to four. We just couldn’t get the stops when we needed.
You know, I don’t have an answer for why it didn’t go well in overtime. I don’t know if I’m even going to watch this game, to be honest with you. It’s not one of our better games. I’m sure at some point in the next week, I’ll sit down and watch it. I’m not watching it tonight. I’ll guarantee you that, though.
Question: Coach, congrats on the great season. Just wanted to ask about the free throws, 11 to 25. Do you think that was a mental thing? What do you think was the issue with the free-throw shooting tonight?
NATE OATS: That’s a good question. To me, free throws are always a mental thing. It’s the same distance. There’s zero variables in free throws other than the pressure you put on yourself mentally. I always tell our guys, turn yourself into a robot at the free-throw line. It’s the same thing. Do the same routine every time.
Why it became a mental thing, I don’t know if some early misses by some guys made other guys start thinking about it. I don’t have an answer to that. It’s disappointing because, you know, if we make them, we win the game. It hurts to lose a game knowing, if you make free throws, you win.
You look — obviously, we both shot 25 free throws. They made 20, and we made 11. So we needed one more free throw in regulation to win it, but it’s tough. It’s the game of basketball. You’ve got to make them. We put a big point of emphasis on guys making them. I thought we had a lot of guys improve dramatically. Herb Jones is a great free-throw shooter all year. He put a ton of time in all off-season, all year really in the gym. He’s a good free-throw shooter. Didn’t happen to make them tonight.
So nothing to be said about them. It happens. It’s sports. He wasn’t the only one. I think we only had two guys shoot over 50 percent, what, Primo and Petty. The only two guys that shot over 50 percent, and we had guys that made them at a pretty high level all year. Just didn’t make them tonight for whatever reason.
Question: Congratulations on a fantastic year. I’ve got a couple, if I could. At the end of regulation, was Reese’s shot the one that you were wanting? And then my second question to you, Coach, is ultimately, how are you going to remember this team?
NATE OATS: I mean, I clearly had four options, really three. Herb took it out with that amount of time. Four, including himself. If he had the open three himself, he could have taken it. He’s made great decisions for us all year. I think Quinerly has been an unbelievable point guard. He was great for us. I mean, led us in scoring. He was good. He found the right guy. Reese had a penchant for hitting big shots.
I kind of made the statement before. We looked at 12 games last year, and I think 11 of them were one- or two-possession games. We threw that Kentucky game in. We looked at the last six minutes of all those games, and Reese had been one of the guys making big shots at the end of close games for us last year.
I think he’s got it in him. There’s a reason he was in the game at the end. He hit another big shot. He was 5 of 7 from three coming in — you know, in the tournament games. So he ends up 6 of 9 from three in the NCAA Tournament.
So the biggest games of the year for him, he showed up big. I’m really proud of him, proud of his character, proud of everything he’s become. I’m glad he hit the three. But it was either Petty, Keon Ellis, or Reese, were J.Q.’s three options there, and he found the right guy.
And then how will I remember this team? I’ll remember it as the team that changed the entire culture of Alabama basketball. Expectation levels are drastically different. Recruiting is different. People want to come here and play for Alabama basketball. People think about Alabama basketball way different.
I told our guys, I’m going to be talking about this team for the next 30 years I’m coaching. This is an unbelievable team with a bunch of high character kids that stepped up to the challenge and changed the entire narrative of Alabama basketball.
There was three seniors from the state of Alabama that they’re going to go down in Alabama basketball history. Petty, Jones, and Reese, couldn’t be more proud of them. And I already talked about the other two seniors that were included with those two.
So that’s how I’m going to remember them. Best team I’ve coached. I had some tough, hard-nosed. I love my Buffalo teams, but this team was tough, hard-nosed, with a lot of talent. Fifth in the country, that’s pretty good.
So proud of them. Wish I was still coaching them for another week or week and a half, whatever it would have been, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Question: Nate, it’s hard to put a finger on this thing because I don’t think you guys were rushed necessarily, just not relaxed maybe or something. Even in the runs, it just didn’t — there wasn’t a flow or something. Is that the feeling you got tonight?
NATE OATS: I don’t think it helped with Herb’s foul trouble out of the gate. We kind of got out of the flow a bit. We rely a lot on him. Offense runs through him. Two charges in the first two possessions on offense kind of took him out of rhythm a bit. That may have been it.
They did a good job. Look at our assist numbers. We had nine assists, 14 turnovers. That’s not how we play. You look at how we play, we’re usually the other way when we’re good on offense. The ball maybe didn’t move, but you’ve got to give a lot of credit to UCLA too. They had a good game plan. You know when you get down, you play a little different.
I thought our guys showed a lot of character, a lot of resilience coming back. We had a lead at some point during the second half, I think. Weren’t we up — I think we were up eight in the first half, if I remember. We were up four or six in the second half, if I remember right. I don’t know for sure.
Look, man, you look at UCLA’s tempo, they’re one of the slowest teams in the country. They try to muck things up a little bit, make it different. We knew that they were going to do that. You can’t speed them up on offense without gambling a lot on defense. We’re not a gambling team. We’re third in the country in defensive efficiency coming into this game. We’re a good defensive team. They hit some tough shots. We didn’t do as good a job as we needed to during parts of the game.
I thought our coaches did a good job getting guys ready to play. Maybe I could have made a few different decisions personnel-wise. These games are not easy to win. They’re hard games to win. Give our guys a lot of credit. Give our assistant coaches a lot of credit. It wasn’t meant to be tonight.
Question: Coach, congratulations on a fantastic season. You talked about it a little bit in your opener about remembering this feeling. How much fuel does this give you all to be back on the stage next season? And back on the instant replay, did you expect UCLA to foul you on the inbound?
NATE OATS: Yeah, I was thinking they might try to foul us. I don’t know what his philosophy was on that. Glad he didn’t foul us, obviously. What was the first part of the question again? I apologize.
Question: You had talked about this feeling, remembering this feeling in the opener. How much fuel does this give you all to get back on the stage next season?
NATE OATS: Look, we’ve got some really talented players that will be back next year — Quinerly, Shackelford, Primo. Juwan Gary has been big for us. You kind of go down the list. Keon Ellis was huge for us late in the year. We had guys sitting out, Tchikou. There’s guys that played well.
We’ve got some really big-time recruits coming in. The future of Alabama basketball is in a great spot. I would hope. As a coach, it’s going to motivate me. We’ve got to figure out what to do better. There’s obviously stuff I could have done better in this game, and I want to figure it out. At some point, I’ll watch this game, and as a staff, we’ll go down and evaluate it, once I get to that point where I’m ready to watch it.
We’ll do better. I thought we made drastic improvements from year one to year two. We need to make more improvements from year two to year three. We’re going to miss these seniors in a huge way. They’re great. Petty and Herb, Reese, Bruner. Maybe the four best senior group in a long time in Alabama basketball history.
We’re going to miss them a lot, but I hope losing motivates those guys that are returning. Some of them didn’t play very well, but it’s sports. You know, in sports sometimes you need a little motivation in the off-season. I hope it gives it to them.
I told them not to hang their heads, but I’m sure, knowing these guys, they’re very competitive. They’ll get better and use it for motivation, I’m sure, as the coaching staff will.