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Before the largest basketball game in Alabama, there will be a lot of insults exchanged

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the 15 minutes before Alabama makes its first Final Four appearance in school history Saturday, there probably won’t be many warm and fuzzy moments in the locker room.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the 15 minutes before Alabama's first Final Four appearance in school history on Saturday, there probably won't be many friendly moments in the locker room.

Instead, there will be many insults.

One of the most important tasks during Alabama's unexpected run in the NCAA Tournament has been assigned to Aaron Hepp, the athletic program's director of creative content. He spends four to five hours before each game putting together negative comments from basketball commentators who don't think Alabama is prepared for prime time.

They haven't been difficult to find.

“Just the whole naysayers thing,” Hepp said. “Everybody counting us out and everything. Coach (Nate) Oats and I talk about it, different ideas, ways to get the guys motivated. It’s very fun.”

Alabama will compete against defending champion UConn in the national semifinals at State Farm Stadium. The Tide are 11 1/2-point underdogs against the Huskies, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, which is one of the biggest margins in the Final Four in recent history.

Tide guard Aaron Estrada said the team’s pregame tradition begins when the team leaves the floor after warmups, usually about 14 minutes before tip-off.

Estrada said everyone catches their breath for a moment while Oats goes over some last-second game plan reminders, then they look up at a TV, and the insults start coming fast and furious.

Said Charles Barkley: “They are a very frail team.”

Said AL.com: ” Alabama’s free fall in March feels somewhat like the one two years ago. Early-season promise, end-of-season dud.”

None of it’s a surprise. Players say it’s still effective.

Considering they’re on a four-game winning streak since it started, it’s hard to argue.

“We all have social media, so we’ve already seen and heard these things before they show it, ” Estrada said. “But for them to put together a minute-, two-minute video with Charles Barkley and all those guys saying Alabama’s soft, they can’t guard — I think it’s funny.

“But it definitely fuels us and gets us going right before the game.”

Alabama’s top scorer Mark Sears said there’s usually a lot of remarks aimed at the team’s defense, which was admittedly subpar at times this year, especially during the middle of the season.

“That gave us some fire,” Sears said.

Forward Grant Nelson said before the team’s Elite Eight win over Clemson last week, one of the disparaging remarks was aimed at Tide backup Jarin Stevenson, who then went on the floor and scored a season-high 19 points, making five 3-pointers.

“We’ve been doubted all season,” Nelson said. “Anyone and everyone talking trash about our defense. They’re saying they don’t believe in us still.”

Of course, it'll take more than just talk to beat powerful UConn, which has dominated the tournament bracket and is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champions. That hasn’t happened since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007.

However, Hepp's video might ignite something special.

It's worth a try.

"Saying it is much easier than doing it," Oats explained. "I mean, over 40 minutes, we will be in there, we have a possibility."

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