Alabama and Clemson are known for their football prowess. They face off for a spot in the Final Four

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Alabama and Clemson facing off on a Saturday? Sounds like a matchup that ought to be happening on a football field in the fall, or perhaps in January with a national title at stake. Now, they’re clashing during March Madness for a first-ever spot in the Final Four.

The fourth-seeded Crimson Tide (24-11) and sixth-seeded Tigers (24-11) meet Saturday night at Arena, where the Tide are a three-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Tide have been to the Elite Eight just once before, in 2004 under coach Mark Gottfried, and lost to UConn.

“This would be the biggest win in the history of Alabama basketball if we can pull it off,” coach Nate Oats said Friday.

The Tigers haven’t gone this deep in the NCAA Tournament since 1980 with future NBA player Larry Nance on the team. Their win over second-seeded Arizona in a West Region semifinal triggered wild celebrations back home.

“Everybody always talks about Clemson football and how big their support is,” guard Joseph Girard III said. “Knowing we’re getting a lot of that right now, it feels great.”

Under such legends as Bear Bryant, Nick Saban and others, Alabama owns 18 national championships in football. Clemson has three, winning two under current coach Dabo Swinney — both times topping Alabama for the title. The teams met in the College Football Playoff four straight times from 2016-19, with Alabama winning the other two — the title game in ’16 and a semifinal two years later.

“Most people would think we’re out here playing in the Rose Bowl,” Oats said.

Alabama touts itself as the campus where legends are made, so getting to a Final Four would elevate the basketball program.

“Just be probably legends on campus,” guard Rylan Griffen said.

Oats credits the now-retired Saban for the Tide’s focus on whatever is coming next, whether it’s a game, a play or a possession. He also borrowed a phrase Saban uses to describe praise from the media — “rat poison.”

“I told them, ‘If you want to get to a Final Four you’ve got to be disciplined enough to put that rat poison out, get locked in on what we need to do for the next 24 hours, be prepared to beat this team,'” Oats said. “Because anything else is a total distraction.”

Alabama caught everybody’s attention by knocking out top-seeded North Carolina with an 89-87 victory in the West Region semifinals. The Tide were carried by senior Grant Nelson, who scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half, had 12 rebounds, five blocks and made 10 of 13 free throws. Mark Sears, their leading scorer during the season, had 18 points but was limited to two field goals in the second half.

“I definitely think they’ll be a tough out,” North Carolina forward Harrison Ingram said. “Just with their shooting, and their pace and their size and athleticism. Especially when they’re making shots.”

Clemson got past second-seeded Arizona 77-72. Chase Hunter scored 18 points and PJ Hall had 17 as the Tigers held the Wildcats to 5-of-28 shooting from 3-point range and 25 of 67 overall.

In the locker room afterward, Girard took a Facetime call from Swinney. The football coach is also texting Tigers coach Brad Brownell.

“There’s a lot of jockeying going on between some of his friends who are ‘Bama fans,” Brownell said. “There might be even a few dinners bet with some of his old cronies because he told me this morning that we really need to win.”

The teams last met on Nov. 28, with Clemson winning 85-77 at Tuscaloosa. The Tigers had four players in double figures and held the Tide to 34% shooting. Alabama was led by Sears with 23 points and Nelson had 14.

“There’s definitely a revenge factor. Nobody wants to lose to a team twice, especially who you think you can beat,” guard Aaron Estrada said. “That’s just going to add even more fuel to us, and it’s going to make us play harder.”

Clemson is a veteran team, led by Hall, Girard and Ian Schieffelin. The Tigers have held their NCAA Tournament opponents under 40% shooting.

“These guys have seen a lot, done a lot and experienced success,” Brownell said. “Our guys have a lot of belief in each other. We’re playing good basketball right now.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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