Auburn – AL – This past weekend, the University of Alabama’s wheelchair basketball team traveled to Auburn for Auburn University’s 2016 Intercollegiate Tournament. The Crimson Tide finished 2-2, finishing with a win on Saturday over Auburn. The Alabama Men are now 12-5 overall and 11-4 in conference.
Alabama started of the weekend with a major hurdle, facing the undefeated, repeat national champions, the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. While the Crimson Tide kept the game close in the first half, eventually the Warhawks pulled away, with the final score 49-68. Freshman Michael Auprince led Alabama with 20 points, (10/18 FG) while Whitewater’s Derrick Bisnett finished with 21.
However, that loss only furthered their motivation and focus for their next games, according to Senior Jannik Blair.
“We were playing, I don’t want to say frustrated, but more that we were playing with a bit more purpose after the first game,” Blair said. “In the first game, we went out with a game plan, and just did not execute it. We didn’t play to our strengths, and just let them [Whitewater] dictate how the game went, and I think that is something we focused on moving forward and onto Nationals.”
In game two, the University of Missouri witnessed firsthand Alabama playing to their strengths. In a rematch from their loss at nationals, the Crimson Tide this time defeated the Tigers 50-42 in a game in which they never gave away the lead. The defense kept continuous pressure on Mizzou, allowing only 21/46 FG, and bottling dynamic Marshall Lindsay to 22 points. Offensively, the Crimson Tide to continued to use Auprince’s (26 points) wingspan to attack under the rim.
For the team, one of their greatest strengths cannot be seen, but rather heard. Freshman Jordan Bartley does not overlook the benefits of over communication on the court and cheering from the bench.
“I think that is one of our greatest assists as team, when we all get around each other a lot and make a lot of noise, it really drives us, Bartley said. “From the first guy on the court to the tenth on the bench, the coaching staff, everyone is vocular, and it really changes the mood, makes the difference.”
However, on Saturday, it was the University of Illinois’ plan that made the difference. They defeated the Crimson Tide 51-49, after losing the previous two matchups. Going into the half, Alabama led 28-22, but the Illini scored 16 straight points entering the second. Spencer Heslop and Ryan Neiswender each scored 17 for Illinois, creating a lot of difficulties for the Crimson Tide defense. For Alabama, Bartley (11 points) and DQ Robinson (10 points) helped create some balance, with Auprince adding 21 points.
Finishing out the tournament, Alabama took on host Auburn on their own court. For Freshmen Shaun Castle, playing the team’s rival is what it is all about.
“Playing Auburn, at Auburn, as an Alabama player does not get any bigger,” Castle said. “That’s the crème-de-la-crème for us, it’s the rivalry game that is easy for us to get up for.”
For the Crimson Tide, returning to Tuscaloosa with two losses became a little easier to handle after finishing out the tournament with a victory over instate rival Auburn. The Crimson Tide came out swinging against the Tigers and never stopped. Alabama defeated Auburn 62-40, a game in which they never led by less than six points. This win means that Alabama is still undefeated against the Tigers in both school’s short time with the sport. They previously took down the Tigers 70-35 in Tuscaloosa this season. In the
Coach Ford Burttram felt like his team showed much progress during the tournament, which does not surprise him at all.
“We’re a completely different basketball team than we were in September, and then we transformed when we went to our first tournament in November, and then even our team from two weeks ago is a completely different team from the one in this tournament,” Burttram said. We are constantly progressing. We are stronger and better for it. “