SEATTLE – When Mark Few gave his initial scouting report of Alabama, Gonzaga’s coach hinted at the “high-octane offense” the Crimson Tide would bring to Seattle for Saturday’s Top 25, nationally televised showdown.
The third-ranked Bulldogs knew what was coming but still couldn’t weather the offensive storm Alabama unleashed at Climate Pledge Arena, losing 91-82 to the 16th-ranked Crimson Tide in a game that will drop them a few more rungs in the Associated Press’ Top 25 and might impact their chances of earning a third straight No. 1 seed to the NCAA Tournament.
Jaden Shackelford, likely the top player on Gonzaga’s pregame scouting report, exploded for 28 points – matching a career high – and led an Alabama team that buried the Bulldogs both early and late with its perimeter shooting.
Granted, Gonzaga also dug plenty of its its own holes on a night that saw the Bulldogs go just 13 of 25 (52%) from the free-throw line. It was their worst outing of the season from the stripe and the third time in five games the Bulldogs have shot less than 60%.
Although sinking a few more free throws might have helped Gonzaga keep pace, it wouldn’t have slowed a dynamic Alabama team that rarely had trouble locating open, and willing, 3-point shooters.
The Crimson Tide opened with 10 3s in the first half. Even after enduring a cold stretch in the second, Alabama delivered two more 3-pointers – one from JD Davison and another from Jahvon Quinerly – inside the final four minutes to stick the final nail in a Gonzaga team that fell to 7-2 and 2-2 against Top 25 teams.
“I thought (Alabama) came out with great energy and really got after us in the first half and we had maybe a couple things not go our way,” Few said. “They’re a type of team that can really make runs and a couple breakdowns here and there, especially leaving some guys we didn’t want to leave open from 3.”
Most of Shackelford’s damage came in the first 20 minutes and the junior guard had 20 of his 28 points by halftime, connecting on 6 of 7 from 3-point range. An Alabama team that made 10 of its first 23 attempts from beyond the arc regressed to the mean in the second half and finished only 13 of 34.
That, along with foul trouble for Alabama’s frontcourt, allowed Gonzaga to build momentum in front of 18,048 loud Bulldog fans who made Seattle’s brand new hockey venue feel more like McCarthey West on Saturday night.
“We’ve got a tough crew,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats, “18,000 people, 17,500 are probably cheering against you. That thing was loud, they cut it to four and shoot I think that’s when we answered with back-to-back 3s.”
With a series of smaller flurries, the Bulldogs cut the deficit to two possessions on multiple occasions in the second half. Anton Watson converted a second-chance jumper to make it 76-72 with 5:29 to play, and Quinerly clanked a jumper on the other end, giving the Zags a chance to cut it to two points.
But, following a common theme of the night, Julian Strawther missed the first attempt of a one-and-one opportunity – the sixth time that happened to the Bulldogs on Saturday – and the teams traded four more missed shots before Davison’s 3-pointer with 3:39 to play made it a seven-point game.
The Zags then went nearly three straight minutes without scoring, allowing Alabama to establish a 14-point lead and put the game away.
“I think we just need to have more of a sense of urgency,” Gonzaga junior Drew Timme said. “I did it myself, I’m guilty of this. I tried to force things in there that, given that point in time we probably should’ve gotten to the next play. So, that’s on me. I’ve got to make sure when I see getting things out of hand like that, we really slow down, we really get to a new play or a new action.
“We’ve just got to fix it, but we’ve got a lot of time to fix it.”
Timme led the Bulldogs with 23 points, going 10 of 19 from the field, and Julian Strawther added 13 more, though it came on 4 of 12. Chet Holmgren had 10 points and 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Four Alabama players spent much of the second half with four fouls apiece, but the guard trio of Shackelford, Quinerly and Davison managed to stay on the floor when it mattered, combining to score 66 points and make 11 of 19 from beyond the 3-point line.
“I guess just going out there and playing hard and losing yourself, that’s how you just get open shots and stuff like that,” Davison said. “It just comes from working a lot and just being in the gym a lot. Just working on game-type stuff like that.”
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