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What Alabama Said About Beating Maryland, Going to the Sweet 16

Alabama is heading back to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004

Jaden Shackelford scored 21 points and made five of Alabama's 16 3-pointers as the second-seeded Crimson Tide advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 2004. 

It'll be the first trip for Nate Oats, the second-year coach who guided the Crimson Tide to a 96-77 victory over UCLA. 

Alabama next faces 11th-seeded UCLA in the East Region, with tip set for 6:15 p.m. CT Sunday (TBS).

Here's what the Crimson Tide had to say during the post-game teleconference. 

Coach Nate Oats

Really happy for our guys. It's been a long time since they've played in the Sweet 16. These guys have really bought into playing the right way. And I think defensively to be one of the top five teams in the country all year -- but the offense was bound to come.

So I just told them after the first game, let's just lose ourselves in the game, lose ourselves in the blue-collar stuff and the defensive stuff. I reached out to Coach Pitino after the Iona game, I actually talked to him this afternoon -- I wanted to get his thoughts on us. He told me his thoughts on us. He told me the same thing -- he said every Louisville/Kentucky team he had, the hardest game was the first one. He referenced the San Jose State game when they were a 36-point favorite and it was a one-point game at the half.

And he just told his guys they've got enough talent that it's going to -- calm, just focus on defense. That's what I've been telling our guys. But I told them, Coach Pitino said the same thing. He's a hall of fame coach, won a couple of national championships, I think he knows what he's doing.

I just said let's do that. You look and Petty won the blue-collar, last game he's playing really hard. He's just way too talented to not have a good game here pretty quick. So he led the team plus-minus with 19. He had 20 points, shot 4-of-9 from 3. Shack had 21, 5-of-8 from 3. And can't say enough about those guys.

Quinerly comes off the bench and has nine assists in the first half, ends the game with 14 and 11. So a lot of guys stepped up. And the SEC Player of the Year, Herb has six points and six rebounds in 17 minutes and can't stay out of foul trouble. And we're still able to do what we did. So just kind of shows what everybody else had going today.

Q. Looked like you guys were quite emotional at the end or when Petty hit those two 3s right in a row right in front of the bench. Looks like you almost gave him a hug or high-five when he was running by. What was it like to see him go through those struggles and then make those shots?

COACH OATS: I've just been talking to him. I think he's just been all about the right stuff for the majority of the year these last, two, three months. And he deserved to play better than what he had played. And I think he was putting a lot of pressure on himself. And I just felt like he could use a shot to go through, couple back-to-back.

It was huge. I was happy for him. And excited for him. And hopefully this gets him on a roll here. He's just been playing super hard. For whatever reason he wasn't making shots. So he's making shots now. That's the John Petty we all know. So it's good to have him back.

Q. You guys give yourself another week in the bubble there in Indianapolis. What do you think about spending another week in the, quote/unquote, controlled environment? How are you planning on spending the time?

COACH OATS: We'll figure out something to do to spend our time. I told the guys you know most mentally tough team may come out of this thing. So we're going to get out -- I got out and enjoyed the outdoors a little bit today. Before today I had been here a week, hadn't been outside one time, outside of getting on a bus and getting off. So we had a couple of the guys go out.

Maybe we'll make it mandatory. Maybe we'll get a little softball game going or something. They let us go over to Victory Field, that's nice. I'll tell you what, the food has been great. The first day was a little struggle. After that it's been good. Our nutritionist, Amanda, has been great, supplemented what -- but the hotel food has been good and the meals we got there -- and she supplements it with snacks and small meals.

And I told her I put on ten pounds since I've been in the bubble, so I need to hurry up and get out of the bubble. Hopefully it's a couple more weeks, but I might need to start disciplining myself with the eating in the bubble and get a little bit more exercise, one of the two.

But we'll figure out what to do with the players. We've got our academic coordinator, Brittany, with us. She'll be on with them with some academic stuff and we'll watch a lot of video, get them in the gym and spend some time in the gym and try to make sure their legs are fresh. They've been playing cards, I gotta learn how to play Spades, not my game of choice, but maybe by the end of the week I'll know how to play Spades. But we'll probably do something other than that too.

Q. Primo made his return. Didn't look like he missed a beat, 23 minutes, 10 points. How big was his return to the lineup for you guys tonight?

COACH OATS: I thought he was huge. We needed big guards. They have big guards that they post a lot. He's 6'6", 200 pounds, athletic, with length. I thought his minutes were huge for us. He's 2-of-4 from 3. He's been working too. He hasn't been able to go live in practice but he's been shooting a lot. He's a confident kid. Works hard.

That tip dunk was what got me going, though, showed his athleticism a little bit. I think that maybe will give him a little bit of confidence he was up on the rim on that. They went to the zone and he crashed, got the boards. We've got really good kids and he's as good a kid as it comes. I was happy to see him play well his first game back after his injury.

Q. Could you give us an update on Jordan? Why couldn't he start why couldn't he go tonight? Is it still the knees, just didn't come around after that first game?

COACH OATS: He's not as athletic as he was before the knee surgeries. And they're starting Scott who is essentially like a 3/4 at the 5. So it wasn't that he couldn't go. Me and him talked last night. He's a smart kid. He sat in my room and told me, Coach, I'm a basketball mind, I think. He said, look -- we talked about the matchups. We thought Galin Smith would be a better matchup for him. They only played Galin four minutes.

So it was hard to get Bruner those minutes. We thought Reese and Bruner could match up when they had Galin in a little better. But when Scott was in, we liked the Juwan Gary match-up a little more. So we changed it up. Charlie was in the NBA for five years. He talked about when the Golden State Warriors were rolling and they had a starting lineup and they switched it for the finals.

At this point you do what you've gotta do to win the game. Bruner's a team guy. He's all about what it takes for the team to win. Obviously he'd like to play more minutes because he's a really good player. But we built this thing on getting stops and guarding. And we didn't think the matchup was good and he got beat on the one blow-by there.

Because with the way they run their offense there's a lot of five out and there's a lot of switching that was going on with kind of their different actions. So it wasn't just even necessarily that one matchup either. It was get switched on to some of those guards where we felt like Juwan was a little bit more able to stay in front of those.

So we played Juwan a lot. We played Herb at the 5 some. If he would have stayed out of foul trouble he probably would have played a few more minutes at the 5. But we liked the matchup a little bit better.

Q. I'm wondering how someone could gain ten pounds in the bubble. What's your favorite bubble snack?

COACH OATS: You have no idea. Amanda gets these guys smoothies every night. She had them a Potbelly Oreo shake with a cookie after I had a Potbelly sub. It's literally every three hours there's like a new meal popping up.

And the staff does this kind of fat-loss, weight-loss contest from January until the week of the SEC Tournament. So I go all in. We try not to get too out of shape during the year by doing this contest. We weighed in that Monday before the SEC Tournament and I was down as low as I'd been since last year before the SEC Tournament.

So now I'm just putting it all back on in the bubble. It's all bad right now. I've got to get myself back on some discipline here. But after we're done with the season I'll get back on the discipline here. Right now I'm trying to lock in to watch some -- plus when you're watching video late at night and there's just available snacks everywhere, I've got to be more disciplined. But right now I'm just worried about watching video, making sure my team's ready to go, making sure they're in a good spot. I can get myself together later.

Q. There was a time when Herb got his second foul you had a six-point deficit. You were able to respond with a 19-4 run. How big was that? Seemed like you gained control after that?

COACH OATS: It was kind of weird that we made the run without Herb because he's an integral part of what we do. But I thought guys stepped up. Primo was good and Quinerly was good and Keon Ellis was good. We were able to do it without Herb in the game a lot.

I think we went on two 19-4 runs. There was one in the first half, and then we opened the second half on a 19-4 run, so Herb was involved there for part of the at the second half, but even at that he got his third foul fairly quick and had to come out.

And, so, Quinerly has been playing well. Our runs obviously were fueled by offense and defense both tonight. When Quinerly was in, the offense was flowing. They couldn't stand in front of him. He got in the paint, 11 assists and nine assists in the first half. He was a big part of that 19-4 run.

Q. Alex Reese, a lot of production off the bench. He was able to once again shoot the 3 well, gave you double figures. Talk about also just the bench as a whole. They played with a lot of energy. I thought that was one of the keys against Maryland, you didn't have a lot of depth.

COACH OATS: I thought Reese was great. I mean, he's been great both games. Shot 2-of-2 from 3. Last game, 3-of-5 and now 5-of-7 in the NCAA Tournament. He showed up. We talked about it.

We looked at -- we were 4 and 7 in one- or two-possession games last year. We looked at -- I think we picked 12 games. There was one more game, the Kentucky game ended up being more than two possessions. It was close. It was a one-possession game with a minute and some change to go.

We looked at those 12 games. One thing that kept recurring was Reese made big shots in some of those late games last year when we needed him to. So kind of our mindset, what I thought, Reese steps up in some big moments.

Well, I think he's stepping up in big moments now and the NCAA Tournament can be a little overwhelming for some people. It's obviously not for Reese.

I thought at the end of games last year he was big for us. I thought he was big for us in the NCAA Tournament. Really happy for him because I think his attitude has been great all year. I addressed that with the team, because a couple guys didn't play very many minutes tonight that usually play a lot more minutes.

Herb didn't get nearly as many minutes because of foul trouble. Bruner and Rojas. Reese had a lot of games where he didn't play nearly as many minutes as he wanted. During the year, he kept his attitude, great all year. Look at what he's doing now with season on the line in the NCAA tournament. Playing his best basketball of his career in my opinion. Really happy for Reese. He has 13 and 5 in 16 minutes and shoots 3-of-5 from 3. Those two 3s he hit against Iona were huge. He's playing well for us.

Q. I did ask Herb after the first game how he grade that game. He said he'd give them a C. I do wonder what kind of grade you'd give your team this time, in particular. And one other question I did have was about the technical foul to JQ. What kind of explanation did you get on that?

COACH OATS: Well, he talked, can you hit the 3 and said something to the other kid. JQ said the other kid said something to him first and started it. Typically it happens that the second guy always gets hit with a T. The referees had warned us earlier in the game, no talking.

When you're in the NCAA Tournament everything's a little more on alert. Everybody, all the officials are getting evaluated, all that.

So we had explained to our guys before the tournament about it. We had to re-explain it to them early in the game when the referees warned us.

And so when it happened, the referees have warned us. I wasn't very happy with JQ. We're trying to win the game and he puts them on the free throw line before the game is over. I thought he played. Great needs to be smarter. Beat them on the scoreboard. We don't have to talk when we beat them, just beat them on the scoreboard and play well.

So the first question, giving a grade to the game. I mean, look, defensively we were a 1.17. I'm looking at the HDI box score right now, our analytics company, which was not where we needed to be. Our goal was like 1.0.

So defensively I didn't think we were very good. So we're not going to give it an A. Offensively we looked great. We were 1.48, which is outstanding. So it's nice that the offense came around. I looked on KenPom. I think we jumped from 38 to 27th in the country in one game. That's how good the offense was. So maybe a B. If our defense would have been where it needed to be, it would have been an A but we've got to get both sides of the ball going. Hopefully against UCLA we can get the defense back and keep the offense rolling as well.

Jaden Shackelford

Q. What was the difference in the 3-point shooting from the first game of the tournament until tonight? Why the improvement?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: I feel like we didn't come out the first game with as much defensive intensity as we needed to. And you know, this game I feel like we kind of changed that. That was a big emphasis coming in today. We run off stops. Our 3 ball usually falls more. I feel like that was a big reason why our 3 ball fell more this game.

Q. Growing up playing basketball in Southern California did you follow UCLA? Is this a big game for you personally?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: Yes, most definitely. I always followed UCLA. Always one of my favorite teams to watch. It's going to be cool playing against a Pac-12 team, a team out West, so that will be fun.

Q. The 3-point shot tonight, with Petty specifically, I know he had been struggling a little bit, what was it like to see him? I know you made a couple in a row there and the bench went nuts for him. What was that like?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: It was amazing, good to see the work pay off. J.P. is in the gym all the time. It was good to see him knock down shots, it was big for us. It was big on our run. It was great to see the shot fall for him. Super proud of him and super happy.

Q. There was a stretch in the game when J.P. hit back-to-back 3s and you hit back-to-back 3s to really pull away. What was the electricity like on that court in that moment because you guys as a whole just seemed so fired up and had so much confidence that anything you put up was going to go in?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: It was surreal to be honest. We dreamt to be on this stage early in the year, so to see the work on display, really our bench is great. Our fans are great. Much love to them for all the support they bring to us. Just all that fed into that electricity on the court for us. It was big. Probably helped us make those shots. So big shots but it's a lot going into it.

Q. Talk about the offensive rhythm that you guys got into quickly. What did you think the key there was? And talk about Jahvon Quinerly's performance. He ran the team well and getting the double-double.

JADEN SHACKELFORD: I mean out of the gate, Coach emphasizes getting out and running. We had to play off our stops. Once we got the stops and we kind of broke the game through it was big. JQ was big for us, distributing and also scoring. He ran the team well today and the offense was flowing. I feel like when we get stops our offense is hard to guard.

Q. Tell me about the locker room. What was it like there in the locker room post game?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: It was super exciting. Everybody was super excited and hyped. It's a big milestone in our program. First Sweet 16 since 2004, so it was big for us. We like to soak up our accomplishments. So we'll soak it up for the day and prepare for UCLA throughout the week. But it was a nice, excited locker room after that game. I'm proud of my guys for pulling through and getting here.

Q. My question is really simple here. How does it feel to finally have Josh Primo back on the court with you guys?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: It was amazing. Super proud of how he attacked the rehab, really wanted to get back on the court for the team. He came out gave us strong minutes. Came out and hit shots, crashed the offensive glass. He was a big contribution to today's win. So it felt good to have him back there out there with us. He deserves to be out here on the big stage. Couldn't be more happy for him.

Q. Obviously beginning the season you all expected some kind of improvement. But again, the Sweet 16, could you all have imagined something like that even when you all were winning a lot?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: You know it's always something we imagined and something we thought we were capable of. So, I mean, we always talked about it, to be here is special. And the feeling is kind of indescribable at this point because the team has worked so hard to get here. Like I said earlier, we're going to soak up this moment and how much it took us to get here. But it's definitely something to be proud of for this program and the organization.

Q. You guys have generally, you're a good 3-point shooting team, but what keys you in as a team to know that it may be a night like it was tonight? Is there anything in particular that sets up a night when you're hitting at such a high rate as you did this evening?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: I mean, usually on nights that we shoot well from 3 we're able to get past our defender and get paint touches. Once we get paint touches, you know, it opens up a lot of opportunities from 3. So I felt like we did a good job getting into the interior and making spray-outs and kick-outs to open teammates. Once we get paint touches it's easier 3-point opportunities for the whole team.

Q. I wanted to ask you, before the game, when you were warming up, are you feeling it? Do you know that that night is going to be good for you? And what has happened to Alex Reese? Where is that confidence level coming from with Alex?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: Right. You know what, in warm-ups, not even just myself but we all try to come in and stay focused and locked in. It's a time where we've got to prepare ourselves, make sure our shots are dropping. There's days you feel like your shot is dropping and, you know, I felt like that every night. Our guys are coming in confident that their shot is going to fall. So tonight just happened to be a great night for us for shooting the ball.

And for Reese it's amazing to see how much he's doing for us right now. He came in with a positive mindset, coming in knocking down shots for us. He's playing huge minutes for us and it's a big reason why we won these past two games.

Q. Jahvon had his first career double-double. How big was that for him? And how big was just the whole bench today?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: Huge for JQ. He's a super unselfish guy. We all know he can score the ball but he's a great facilitator, great distributor. He found the open guys today he also found his own rhythm. It was huge for us. We had, what, 19 assists as a team. So he had 11 of those. That was huge for us today. And it was just big.

Q. There's a period of time early in the season when Herb Jones had foul trouble and had some games and you guys just kind of carried on. Now it just doesn't seem like a big deal. You aren't fazed when he gets in foul trouble. There's a confidence on both sides of the court.

JADEN SHACKELFORD: Absolutely, Herb struggled with foul trouble early in the season and today as well. But we got guys coming off the bench, next man up mentality. When a guy is down one game, he's got to be ready to come in and contribute to our team on both ends of the floor. I feel our guys are coming in confident, ready to take up that role and Herb's role when he's out of the game. I feel we've done a great job with that every time Herb's come into foul trouble.

Q. Talk a little bit about the energy that Juwan Gary brings. What do you get from him when he was in the starting lineup today? What does he bring to the team in different areas?

JADEN SHACKELFORD: You know, he comes in gives his all each and every play, each and every possession. He's going up for every rebound that's in front of him. He's great on the offensive glass. Gives us a lot of second-chance opportunities. He runs the floor hard. He defends. He finishes at the rim.

He's bringing a lot to the table for our team right now. So, you know, he's a great guy to have out there. He's all about the right stuff. And it's great to see him playing well right now.

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