Casagrande: 4 guys turned dudes and sent Alabama to the Final Four

This is an opinion column.

Mo tubet.

Grant Nelson.

Zarin Stevenson

and Nick Pringle.

Each flew west, important but not essential, during Alabama's topsy-turvy basketball season. No one had much speed before the Crimson Tide landed a team edge last week in Spokane.

Now they'll head to Phoenix as teammates — legends on a history-making Alabama basketball team going where no one has gone before.

It is real.

Alabama went to the Final Four — ending its existential second-weekend NCAA dream tradition on the backs of role players.

Los Angeles had its share of star power to beat Clemson 89-82 on Saturday night. Of course, Mark Sears hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:15 left and his 23 points led all Crimson Tide scoring.

But this was about the ride Others One — guys who have become teammates in times of need for Final Four teams.

Dubette came off the bench for the second-round spark against Grand Canyon.

It was Nelson who went through the final moments of North Carolina's Thursday night upset.

When that white-knuckle rider hit a danger zone Saturday, Stevenson had his moment. Pringle was clutch in the closing moments, but they wouldn't have mattered much if the freshman from Chapel Hill hadn't come out of the shadows early on.

Consider Nelson's second foul less than four minutes into the game and the fact Sears missed his first seven shots.

Alabama trailed 26-13 when Jake Clark hit a 3-pointer and the Tide couldn't manage a layup. It was a team that missed more bunts than Elmer Futt (5-of-15 in the first half) but rebounded with stock players.

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A quick 11-0 Alabama run saw Stevenson make a pair of big 3-pointers. The freshman, who reclassified to join Alabama's freshman class, finished the half with 10 points — the only double-digit scorer in a full game since Feb. 3.

This is a guy who should have knocked down some of the biggest shots in University of Alabama basketball history as a senior in high school.

That continued in the second half, when he went 3-for-3 from deep and finished with a career-high 19.

And then there's Pringle.

No one has had as hot or cold a season as one of the three returners from last year's team, which took home the No. 1 overall seed in bracket play after fizzing through the Sweet 16. The senior forward injured his heel in the win over North Carolina, a night in which he scored two points on 1-for-5 shooting. He had six runs against Grand Canyon and five in the opening round against College of Charleston, a shooter who struggles with a bum heel and isn't a prime candidate for a clutch hit.

Throw in the fact that he shot 50% from the foul line and his second half performance becomes a little more remarkable. Pringle hit 13 of his 16 in the final 20 minutes.

At one point he scored eight straight Alabama points — perhaps in the most crucial moments of the second half. Clemson was heating up. Tiger Joseph Girard hit a 3-pointer with 2:16 left that cut Alabama's edge to 76-73, but Pringle's layup and foul shot 25 seconds later made it at least a two-possession game from that point.

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Sears' 3 came on the following possession and essentially sealed the win with 1:15 left. It's unclear whether the scene would have been on the table if not for the heroics of Pringle, who was suspended twice for throwing a clipboard onto the hardwood against the Grand Canyon.

But who doesn't love a story of redemption?

This entire ride is a project of last year's missed opportunity and late-season slide that turned the SEC title chase into a 14-point loss. If any team is built to complete a Sweet 16/Elite Eight horror show, it's one anchored by No. 2 overall draft pick Brandon Miller, fellow first-rounder Noah Clowney and a deep bench filled with All-American-caliber young talent. With proper experience.

Instead, Phoenix will ride after lifting the elephant-sized chip off his shoulder — a Final Four team at last — with what's left of a roster culled by the NBA and the transfer window.

They have a supporting cast — from guys to guys — role players to legends — to thank for doing what the blue chippers couldn't.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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