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Before Alabama's biggest basketball game, the insults will be flying

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

Instead, there will be insults. Lots of them.

One of the most important jobs during the Crimson Tide's unexpected run in March Madness has fallen to Aaron Hepp, the athletic program's director of creative content. During the NCAA Tournament, he's spent four to five hours before each game splicing together disparaging remarks from basketball commentators, who don't believe Alabama is ready for prime time.

They haven't been hard 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 faces 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 ritual — which started with the first-round game in the NCAA Tournament against Charleston on March 22 — begins when the team leaves the floor after warmups. That's usually about 14 minutes left before tip off.

Estrada said everyone catches their breath for a moment while Oats goes over some last-second gameplan 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 a lot more than rhetoric to beat mighty UConn, which has bulldozed through the tournament bracket and is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champions. That hasn't happened since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007.

Then again, maybe Hepp's video will spark something special.

Hey, it's worth a shot.

“It's a lot easier said than done,” Oats said. “I mean, over 40 minutes, we're going to be in there, we got a chance.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness