Birmingham, Ala. – It took more than 50 minutes of basketball, but Brandon Miller finally appeared in his old form during this year’s NCAA tournament.
After going scoreless during top-seeded Alabama’s first-round win over No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the SEC Player of the Year led the Crimson Tide in the Sweet 16, recording 19 points and 73 assists. Recorded seven rebounds in 51. win over No. 8 seed Maryland on Saturday night inside Legacy Arena.
Miller missed his first three shots on Saturday and did not make his first field goal of the tournament until 6:44 remaining in the first half. The five-star freshman came into the game nursing a groin injury sustained during last weekend’s SEC tournament and played a season-low 19 minutes during Thursday’s tournament opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
While many reports put him at around 80% health heading into Saturday’s matchup, Miller downplayed the injury after the game.
“I am 100%,” Miller said. “It’s just a preparation. Me and (team trainer) Clarke (Holter) were physically ready for this game. That’s the biggest thing, just the preparation coming into play.”
Alabama head coach Nate Oates said his star forward has been dealing a little more than he’d like to admit.
“I noticed him kind of laughing early on. He didn’t have the pop. … He definitely wasn’t 100%. He’s going to tell you he is 100%. He’s a tough kid. Is going to play through and not tell people how hurt it is. Snow and Clarke spent a lot of time together over the past 48 hours.
“Give him a lot of credit. He was going to go. There was never any question about whether he was going to go or not.
Miller saw 34 minutes on the court Saturday, which is slightly higher than his season average of 32.7. Despite leading Alabama in scoring, he struggled to find his shot at times, shooting 5 of 17 from the floor and 2 of 6 from deep.
Whatever percentage Miller was playing, it was enough to make a difference for his team.
His biggest moment of the game came during a second-half sequence in which he nailed Maryland’s Jahmir Young’s layup attempt before nailing a transition 3 on the other end. The two plays created a 5-point swing that allowed Alabama to take a 40–30 lead with 15:28 to play.
Miller said, “It felt great just to be out there.” “It’s just a blessing. I think growing up as a kid, it’s a dream for all kids to be here. It’s a privilege to be here and compete with my team.”
Alabama players certainly feel blessed to have the future NBA lottery on their side.
“He’s a warrior,” said senior guard Jahvon Queenly. “I don’t really know where he is health-wise right now, but not shooting the ball that well and still ending up with 19 points, when you see that consistently from the kids, it shows they A true professional.”
While Miller showed improvement from his first-round performance, he still has a ways to go to get back to firing all gears. Quinerly believes that is the most promising part of Saturday’s performance.
“It’s very encouraging because we know what he’s capable of when he’s at 100%,” Quinerly said. “I think the whole country does.”
Miller will have five days to recover from his injury as Alabama (31-5) prepares to face No. 5 seed San Diego State (29-6) for the Sweet 16 on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky. After Saturday’s game, Oates said the team would rest Miller, adding that it would be “fine” if he had to go through a few practices next week.
“I think it’s just about us being focused,” Miller said. “It was a great win tonight. I think we’re going to come in tomorrow and probably get our bodies together again and start with the basics to prepare for San Diego State.”