Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball claims second national championship

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Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball claims second national championship

Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Ben Stansell

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Only eight minutes into the first half of the Men’s Wheelchair Basketball National Championship, Alabama found itself in a difficult–yet familiar–situation. The Crimson Tide was in a hole, down double-digits against one of the best teams in the country: the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks.

“We had a 13-point deficit, started off slow,” starting guard DeQuel Robinson said. “The shots weren’t falling, and their shots were falling. It was a difficult time right there, but it wasn’t a situation we hadn’t been in before.”

Earlier in the season, Alabama had faced an even larger first half deficit against the University of Texas-Arlington, another top-ranked team, in a tournament it hosted. Instead of crumbling, Alabama engineered a gutsy comeback and toppled UT-Arlington.

As the Crimson Tide trailed UW-Whitewater in the national championship on Saturday, its players relied on that same mental fortitude to mount another comeback, eventually defeating the Warhawks 69-65.

“What really did it was against UT-Arlington at home,” starting center Michael Auprince said. “When we came back from about 15 points down and ended up winning that game, we showed the fight, the drive and the passion for the game that helped us win a national championship.”

For Auprince, the championship victory was especially sweet. Not only due to what it signified, but also because of who it was won over.

Auprince, now a junior, was a member of Alabama’s team when the Crimson Tide lost to UW-Whitewater in the 2015 championship game. It was a game that Auprince said he struggled in.

Through the early stages of this year’s national championship, nerves provoked by memories of that game caused Auprince to struggle.

“In the first half he came out a little tight and a little cold, which is not normal for him,” coach Ford Burttram said.

While Auprince tried to settle into the game, Robinson helped cut UW-Whitewater’s lead down to only two going into halftime by sinking several timely threes.

Coming out of the break, Auprince shrugged off his jitters and “took over” the game, according to Burttram. Behind a sterling 31-point performance, Auprince was awarded MVP of the game, earning redemption against the Warhawks.

It took more than just Auprince’s prolific scoring outburst for Alabama to rally against UW-Whitewater.  Facing the Warhawks’ high-powered offensive attack, the Crimson Tide understood that a championship victory was only possible if it contained the sharp-shooting Dylan Fishbach.

“We knew if we held [Fishbach] under a certain amount of points and we capitalized on our points, this game is ours,” Robinson said. “That’s pretty much what we did.”

Hours upon hours of studying game film and running defensive drills had prepared Alabama for the moment, according to Auprince.

By executing its defensive game plan to near perfection, Alabama kept a team that averaged over 80 points per game to a mere 65. The adage that defense wins championships? Burttram is a firm believer.

With the victory, Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball claimed its second national title. It was the tenth national title won by an Alabama Adapted Athletics team.

“I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” Robinson said. “I honestly don’t know where I would be or what I would have been without Alabama Adapted Athletics.”

The Alabama women’s wheelchair basketball team did not secure its second straight national title, losing to UT-Arlington 64-55 on Saturday.