Analysis: Alabama beats itself with horrible performance from the charity stripe in loss to UCLA

Analysis: Alabama beats itself with horrible performance from the charity stripe in loss to UCLA

March 29, 2021

Twenty-five times Alabama stepped to the free-throw line in an overtime loss that capped a breakthrough season under second-year coach Nate Oats and sent UCLA into the Elite Eight.

Twenty-five trips. Eleven makes. Fourteen misses.

No matter how you perceive the Crimson Tide's 88-78 loss to the Bruins in the men's NCAA Tournament — maybe as a disappointing end to an outstanding season or as a sign of the program's need for continued development as Oats' tenure continues — no factor defined the overtime defeat more than this: Alabama went 11 of 25 from the free-throw line, an historically inept performance given the stakes and narrow final margin.

Alabama's performance from the line Sunday night was the worst by any team to make at least 25 attempts in the men's tournament since Kansas went 12 of 30 in a loss to Syracuse in the 2003 championship game.

In comparison, UCLA shot 25 free throws and made 20, providing the most obvious reason for why the Bruins are marching one step closer to the Final Four while Alabama heads home.

"To me, free throws are always a mental thing," Oats said. "It’s the same distance. There’s zero variables in free throws other than the pressure you put on yourself mentally. Why it became a mental thing, I don’t have any answer to that."

And it was out of character for a team that performed reasonably well on free throws heading into Sunday night.

“Not one of our better performances," Oats said. "I guess that at some point this week, I’ll go back and watch the game. I’m not going to watch it tonight, I’ll guarantee you that.”

Alabama went into the UCLA matchup hitting 71.9% from the line, good for 135th nationally and eighth in the SEC. Fewer teams did a better job getting to the line. Alabama ranked 24th in the country in free-throw attempts and 21st in total makes.

MORE:  Why UCLA has emerged as Final Four contender

While no single player stood out in free-throw percentage, the Tide's primary contributors were noticeably consistent. Each of Alabama's top eight scorers made at least 70% of their free-throw attempts.

That includes forward Herbert Jones, who went into Sunday having made 73.8% of his shots but went 2 of 7 against the Bruins, including two misses with seconds left and UCLA ahead 63-62 — at the very least, making just one of two would've changed the complexion of the final seconds of regulation.

While guard John Petty made all four of his attempts, every other Alabama contributor struggled: guard Keon Ellis went 1 of 3 from the line, forwards Juwan Gary and Alex Reese went a combined 0 of 4, and guards Joshua Primo and Jahvon Quinerly went a combined 2 of 7.

Somewhat overshadowed by the free-throw struggles was the Tide's off night from 3-point range, which was an even more noticeable team strength. 

Alabama led the nation in 3-point attempts (961) and makes (341) and ranked 95th in 3-point percentage (35.5%), defining itself as an offense by its production and proficiency from deep. 

Against UCLA, the Tide went just 7 of 28 from 3-point range, with Petty and Quinerly a combined 4 of 14. Again, the Bruins were better: UCLA went 10 of 29 despite heading into Sunday ranked 219th nationally in 3-point makes per game.

But it's the missed free throws that will hang over Alabama's loss and trail the Crimson Tide into the offseason after a special year.

"It’s disappointing, because if we make them we win the game," said Oats. "We needed one more free throw in regulation to win, so it’s tough."

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

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