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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Jaden Shackelford, backcourt mates spark Alabama to Battle in Seattle win over Gonzaga

Dec. 4, 2021 Updated Sat., Dec. 4, 2021 at 9:17 p.m.

SEATTLE – They squared off a couple years ago, a few months before COVID-19 put March Madness on the sideline late in the 2019-20 season.

Andrew Nembhard wore a different uniform and was red hot on that January night, dropping a career-high tying 25 points for Florida in a memorable 104-98 double-overtime victory over Alabama.

Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga after the season, played a major role in Gonzaga reaching the NCAA Tournament championship game and took over as the Zags’ lead guard this season.

Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford had a fairly quiet night in that 2020 contest with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. The two defended each other quite often two years ago and did so again Saturday in the Battle in Seattle at Climate Pledge Arena.

This time, Shackelford was the best player on the floor, leading the 16th-ranked Crimson Tide with 28 points, six 3-pointers and nine rebounds, but revenge was the last thing on the junior guard’s mind. 

“I remember playing him my freshman year,” the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Shackelford said. “Not really coming out looking for revenge, more than anything just coming out to win the game. Obviously it feels good to play well, but No. 1 was coming out and getting the win.”

Shackelford played the leading role, but backcourt running mates Jahvon Quinerly and JD Davison made for a strong supporting cast. The trio combined for 65 points, 11 of the team’s 13 3-pointers and made 10 of 11 free throws.

Shackelford put on a first-half performance reminiscent of Duke’s Paolo Banchero, who also stung the Zags for 20 points in the opening half in Las Vegas.

Shackelford, like Banchero, was a handful behind the arc and with dribble penetration. The Crimson Tide’s leading scorer hit all six of his 3-pointers on just seven attempts in the first 20 minutes to match UConn’s A.J. Price’s Battle in Seattle record.

“I’ve got to give credit to my teammates for finding me and getting me open,” said Shackelford, who flirted with the NBA draft and put his name in the transfer portal before deciding to return to Alabama this season. “Obviously playing for a coach who gives you the freedom and draws things up for you, it’s just going out and taking the right shots. You take the right shots, you’re rewarded for it.”

After Gonzaga cut into Alabama’s double-digit lead later in the first half, Shackelford sent the Crimson Tide into the locker room with all the momentum by draining two 3-pointers in the final minute, the last beating the buzzer to boost the lead to 51-35.

Gonzaga did a better job defensively in the second half defending the 3-point line. Shackelford turned his attention to working off the dribble and only took one 3-point attempt in the final 20 minutes.

The Zags trimmed the margin to 60-54, but Shackelford connected on a tough shot from the middle of the lane. He drove around Nembhard for a layup on the next possession and added a three-point play as the Crimson Tide moved on top 69-54.

Gonzaga made another charge, pulling within 76-72. Davison and Quinerly responded, leading a game-deciding 10-0 run. Davison calmly buried a 3-pointer and Quinerly followed with another 3. Davidson’s steal and dunk, and a pair of free throws gave Alabama a 14-point lead.

“Playing hard and losing yourself, that’s how you get open shots,” Davison said. “It just comes from working a lot, I’ve just been in the gym working on my game. I did want it (that key 3-pointer).”

The Crimson Tide nailed 13 3s and finished with 36 paint points to Gonzaga’s 40.

“Obviously we shoot the 3-ball well, we like to play up and down at a fast pace,” Shackelford said. “That’s the majority of our looks at the rim or 3s. That’s just getting in the gym working and making sure we’re ready when the time comes.”

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