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Top-seeded North Carolina falls to Alabama in Sweet Sixteen


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Grant Nelson converted a go-ahead three-point play with 38 seconds remaining, and Alabama beat top-seeded North Carolina 89-87 on Thursday night to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history.

Nelson finished with a season-high 24 points, 19 in the second half, and he blocked RJ Davis' attempt at a tying layup after giving Alabama the lead. Rylan Griffen added 19 points, tying his career high with five 3-pointers, and Aaron Estrada also scored 19 for the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide (24-11).

The Tide face sixth-seeded Clemson on Saturday for a berth in the Final Four. The Tigers defeated second-seeded Arizona 77-72 in the first semifinal at Arena.

After Nelson blocked Davis' shot with 25 seconds left, Davis furiously dribbled around before missing a layup and the Tar Heels got called for a shot-clock violation with 8 seconds left. They were forced to foul, sending Nelson to the line. He calmly made both for an 89-85 lead.

Armando Bacot scored inside with 1 second left, leaving North Carolina trailing 89-87. The Tar Heels fouled Nelson again with 0.9 seconds left. He missed both and time expired on the blueblood Tar Heels, who own six national championships.

Bacot finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in his final game for UNC (29-8). Cormac Ryan had 17 points and made five 3-pointers and Davis had 16 points.

At times, UNC coach Hubert Davis looked like he was still playing for his alma mater, where he starred from 1988-92 under Hall of Famer Dean Smith. Davis dashed up and down the sideline in his white sneakers, gesturing and yelling and taking his glasses on and off as he lived each play through his team.

Alabama trailed 54-46 at halftime. Nelson and Sam Walters combined to score nine of Alabama’s first 13 points to take a 59-57 lead. The Tar Heels struggled early when big man Bacot picked up his third foul five minutes in, but they tied it at 59-all on a basket by Harrison Ingram.

Nelson, Estrada and Griffen teamed to score 21 of Alabama’s next 23 points that produced an 82-77 lead. Nelson ran off seven in a row, capped by a 3-pointer.

Carolina scored eight in a row, including six straight by Davis, to take its last lead, 85-82.

The Tar Heels opened the game on a 19-9 run for their largest lead of a half in which there were eight ties and seven lead changes.

Mark Sears went on a tear, scoring nine points — hitting a 3-pointer and turning to blow a kiss to the crowd — to help the Tide lead 39-34. Sears finished with 18 points.

North Carolina regained control with a 20-7 spurt to end the half ahead 54-46. Ryan and Ingram had two 3-pointers each and Bacot dunked, slithered around Mohamed Wague for a layup and scored off his own steal.


The Tide made their only other Elite Eight appearance in 2004 under coach Mark Gottfried, losing to UConn. Alabama, best known for its football program, has never made the Final Four.