The University of Alabama’s men’s wheelchair basketball team capped its dominant 2018 season with a national championship, holding off the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 69-65 in the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament final.
With the win, UA added its second national championship since winning the tournament in 2013.
UA, the top-seeded team in the tournament, overcame a 13-point deficit in the first half and entered the break down 30-28. Whitewater, playing in its 23rd national championship game, then grew its lead to 12 points with about 16 minutes left in the game.
“After a slow start from the entire team, we clawed our way back as only Alabama can do,” said Michael Auprince, who scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. “We fought, not only to win, but for each other. We didn’t win as a team; we won as a family.”
Auprince, of Sydney, Australia, was named the Men’s NIWBT most valuable player. He led UA in scoring and rebounding this season.
“Going into this tournament, even though we were the number one seed, we still felt like underdogs,” Auprince said. “We felt like we had a chip on our shoulders, and we fought until the last buzzer went off.”
Dequel Robinson, of Mobile, Alabama, finished the game with 21 points. Ryan Morich, of Perth, Australia, scored 13.
Robinson said his experience playing defensive back on the football field lends itself to being aggressive and playing with emotion, which can be both “good and bad” in wheelchair basketball. But, after falling behind by double digits in both halves, Robinson channeled his aggressive style into efficient play.
“I knew I had to play my best and play smart because Whitewater is a great team,” Robinson said. “That’s what my teammates needed from me, and I felt it was my job to make sure I did.
“We have been a second-half team all season. Our collective confidence and mental fortitude are what led the comeback.”
UA’s women’s team fell short of repeating as national champions, falling to the University of Texas at Arlington, 65-55.
UA was led by Arinn Young of Legal, Alberta, Canada, with 24 points. Rosalie Lalonde, of Saint-Clet, Quebec, Canada, scored 14, and Barbara Gross, of Pohlheim, Germany scored 11 points.
The Crimson Tide has reached the championship game nine times and has faced UT-Arlington in each of the last three national championship games.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.