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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Alabama takeaways: For third time in three games, Bulldogs forced to recover from slow start

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 5, 2021

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Drew Timme congratulates guard Nolan Hickman after a foul call during a 91-82 loss to Alabama on Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Drew Timme congratulates guard Nolan Hickman after a foul call during a 91-82 loss to Alabama on Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

SEATTLE – The most positive aspect of No. 3 Gonzaga’s 91-82 loss to No. 16 Alabama is that it occurred on the fourth day of December and not the third week of March, when defensive lapses and blunders at the free throw line will cost teams much more than a few spots in the national rankings.

An inexperienced Gonzaga team – inexperienced by the Bulldogs’ standards, that is – may not be in the danger zone just yet, but GU is also in unfamiliar territory as it prepares for the final leg of its nonconference schedule.

Not since 2018-19 has a Gonzaga team entered West Coast Conference play with more than one loss on its resume and while other Bulldog teams have opened the season with a 7-2 record – the mark this GU team carries into Thursday’s game against Merrimack – the 2021-22 Zags are the first since 2010-11 to have absorbed two losses before Dec. 5.

Still, most of their other goals are intact and Gonzaga might find some comfort in knowing three of the last seven national champions suffered multiple losses in nonconference play before achieving ultimate glory – the last to do it being the 2016-17 North Carolina team that defeated the Bulldogs to win a national crown.

For now, Gonzaga will focus on correcting the mistakes made on Saturday night, and we’ll focus on our three takeaways from the nine-point loss in Seattle.

‘The whole 40’

After a scintillating start to the first half of their highly-anticipated matchup with UCLA, the Bulldogs have been sluggish out of the gate in three consecutive games despite being favored in each.

Against No. 5 Duke, Gonzaga held a small lead for just two minutes before the Blue Devils took over, leading by at least two possessions most of the half and by as many as nine points before the halftime break.

As a 30-point favorite against WAC opponent Tarleton State, the Bulldogs never led by more than seven points in the first half and allowed the Texans to keep the game within two possessions for the final 13 minutes. Tarleton trimmed its deficit to one point at halftime.

The point was driven home once again on Saturday, as a slow-starting Gonzaga team allowed Alabama to mount a 16-point halftime lead after Jaden Shackelford made his fifth 3-pointer of the half.

“We just keep starting these games off flat,” Gonzaga’s Drew Timme said. “Especially, coach and the staff sets up an opportunity to play in a place like this and environment like this, we owe it not only to ourself but to all the people that come out and support us. It’s not the standard we hold ourselves to, our fans should.

“I expect greatness and I expect to win every single game, no matter who we play. That’s the standard and we’re not hitting it early.”

Gonzaga has proven it’s possible. In their first six games, which included top-five matchups with Texas and UCLA, the Bulldogs led by these point totals: 15, 20, 24, 20, 24, 20.

“We’re hitting in parts, we just got away from hitting it the whole 40 (minutes),” Timme said. “So we need to get back to hitting it the whole 40.”

Let it fly

Even when Alabama’s 3-point shooting went cold for an extended period in the second half, the Crimson Tide never had much trouble manufacturing open looks from beyond the arc.

Alabama created opportunities in transition, in half-court sets and through their activity on the offensive glass. The Crimson Tide finished 13 of 34 from deep and 30 of their 51 first-half points came from 3-point looks.

The offensive strategy shouldn’t have been much of a secret given Alabama’s three-point shooting volume the first seven games of the season. The Crimson Tide attempted at least 30 3-point shots in four of those games, making 13 against both Louisiana Tech and South Dakota, and 16 against Miami.

“I think we had a way, way, way greater sense of urgency and I would that would’ve been a little more attention to detail than we had in the first half,” Few said. “But again, we just got a little too gap concerned in the first half and that’s on me and our staff and everything. We were concerned about them getting in the lane and then playing off of that. But we’ve got to be able to do both things. That’s what all our great teams have done here is provide help but also not let guys shoot 3’s.”

Alabama’s 34 attempted 3-pointers were the most by a Gonzaga opponent since Auburn shot 35 in the second game of the 2020-21 season. In the last five seasons, only two other teams have tried that many 3’s against the Bulldogs: Creighton (34, 2018-29) and Florida (36, 2017-18).

“I think you’ll find when you go back and watch this a lot of those were off maybe some loose rebounds and some transition where they were playing with maybe a little more energy,” Few said.

Sweet home Seattle

The result aside, Gonzaga’s return to Seattle after a six-year hiatus was considered an overwhelming success.

The official attendance of Saturday’s game was announced at 18,048, effectively making it a sellout crowd at Climate Pledge Arena, which lists a capacity of 18,100 for basketball games and 17,100 for hockey games.

Seattle U’s basketball team has used the facility for a few early-season home games, but Saturday’s was the first involving two ranked teams at the renovated venue that used to be known as KeyArena.

“It was a spectacular environment in there and really cool to be back playing in Seattle and they’ve just done an unbelievable job with the arena,” Few said. “Man, it’s beautiful and it’s loud and it was just great to see all our fans rally out like this. We just wish we would’ve taken care of business.”

Former Gonzaga pitcher and current Seattle Mariners ace Marco Gonzalez was in attendance, sitting no more than 10 rows behind the Bulldogs’ bench. Brandon Tanev of the Kraken also took in Saturday’s game from a lower bowl seat 24 hours after Seattle’s expansion NHL team beat Edmonton 4-3 at the same arena.

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