LOUISVILLE, Ky. — San Diego State men's basketball coach Brian Dutcher has insisted throughout this NCAA tournament that if his team plays to its strengths, it doesn't matter what the opposition does.
The Aztecs certainly played the way they wanted to against the overall No. 1 seed in March Madness.
San Diego State used a dominant defensive performance Friday night to knock Alabama out of the bracket, bottling up All-America freshman Brandon Miller in a 71-64 victory in the Sweet 16.
Darrion Trammell scored 21 points while Miller, whose outstanding season was marred by off-court complications, was held to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting and committed six turnovers.
The fifth-seeded Aztecs (30-6) will face sixth-seeded Creighton on Sunday in the West Region final as they seek their first Final Four trip in program history.
Roughly 30 minutes after Alabama went down, the tournament's final remaining No. 1 seed, Houston, lost 89-75 to Miami in a Midwest Region semifinal in Kansas City, Missouri — leaving March Madness without a single top seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979. Purdue, No. 1 in the East Region, didn't make it through the first round, while 2022 national champion Kansas, No. 1 in the West, lost in the second round last weekend.
"It's just parity," Dutcher said. "That's what it is. There's not a lot of difference between the best team in the country and the worst team in the country. You're seeing that on this stage."
San Diego State trailed 48-39 midway through the second half before going on a 12-0 run and controlling the game from there. The Aztecs finished with eight blocked shots — five by Nathan Mensah — and forced 14 turnovers.
Trammell scored the first eight points of the Aztecs' big run. He made a 3-pointer, stole the ball from Miller and converted a layup, then buried another 3.
"We're going to go on our run," Trammell said, "and I just took the opportunities they gave me. I took my shot, and I just made a play on defense. From there, our team was in it. That's when the momentum changed."
So did the Crimson Tide's season.
The March Madness run of Alabama (31-6) was clouded by its response to the Jan. 15 fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman in Tuscaloosa, which led to capital murder charges against Darius Miles, who was on the Tide's roster at the time.
Miller was at the scene of the shooting and has not been charged, but police have said in court documents that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun. Authorities have said Miller is a cooperating witness, and he did not miss any playing time. Miller received armed security protection during the tournament.
Mark Sears had 16 points and Charles Bediako and Jahvon Quinerly scored 10 each for Alabama, which shot 32% overall and a miserable 3-of-27 (11.1%) from 3-point range. The Tide, who swept the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles this season, fell short of the second Elite Eight berth in school history.
"We came to this game prepared as much as we could possibly," Miller said. "I think our shot making could have been better. Our shot choices could have been better, but it's just that San Diego's a good group of guys. They're vets, so they have a lot of experience. I feel like they came out and played hard."
San Diego State's players knew they had to impose their will on Alabama's deep and gifted roster.
"Alabama's a great team. They have a lot of talented players and individuals," Trammell said. "We knew it was going to be hard. It was a dogfight. Very physical."
Sears' layup got Alabama within 66-64 with 46 seconds remaining, but Matt Bradley made two free throws and Micah Parrish followed by making three of four attempts at the line, including two with 17 seconds left.
After the final buzzer sounded, San Diego State players and coaches rushed the court and hugged each other in a joyous celebration.
Jaedon LeDee finished with 12 points for the Mountain West Conference champs, who shot just 38% overall and were outrebounded 52-48,but made clutch shots to rally when Alabama seemed in control behind a faster pace after halftime. A technical foul on Dutcher also seemed to spark his seasoned team, which maintained its physical play and thwarted every attempt by the Tide to rally.
Mensah and Johnson had emphatic rejections with San Diego State ahead 53-50.
Both blocks came on layup attempts by Quinerly. Mensah swatted the first, and Johnson rejected a subsequent attempt seconds later. Trammell followed with a step-back jumper for a five-point cushion.
The Aztecs never seemed fazed by Alabama or Miller, but more impressive was their resilience when the game seemed to be slipping away.
As for the Tide, other than the second-half run that put them ahead briefly, they seemed out of sorts in multiple ways. Coach Nate Oats' team's reliance on 3-pointers showed its desperation.
Creighton 86, Princeton 75
Creighton used its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second-half defense to end the 15th-seeded Tigers' surprising run.
The Bluejays (24-12) advanced to their first regional final since they were part of an eight-team NCAA tourney in 1941.
Ryan Kalkbenner, a two-time Big East defensive player of the year, scored 22 points to lead the Bluejays to their sixth win in seven games. Baylor Scheierman made five 3s and finished with 21 points.
Princeton shook up brackets everywhere by beating No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then blew out seventh-seeded Missouri last weekend in Sacramento, California.
Against Creighton, the Tigers (23-9) were led by Ryan Langborg with 26 points and Ivy League player of the year Tosan Evbuomwan with 24 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
Princeton, playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1967, was hoping to become the first Ivy League champ to make the Elite Eight since Penn's Final Four run in 1979, the first Tigers squad to reach the Final Four since Bill Bradley led them there in 1965, and the second straight No. 15 seed to play in a regional final. Saint Peter's last year became the first to achieve the latter feat.