When Nate Oats said yes to the idea of Alabama making the trip to the Pacific Northwest and playing a glorified home game against Gonzaga, he knew it would be an early test of where the Crimson Tide stood.
Alabama’s coach also knew his team could end up being a tough opponent for what was supposed to be a showcase event for Gonzaga.
“With the way we play, we can be dangerous at times with how many threes that we shoot and they knew that,” Oats said. “We hit a few tonight and that helped a little bit.”
Jaden Shackelford scored 20 of his 28 points in the first half, Jahvon Quinerly and JD Davison both hit key 3-pointers, and No. 16 Alabama held off Gonzaga’s big second-half rally for a 91-82 win over the third-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday night.
The Crimson Tide (7-1) made 10 of their 13 3-pointers in the first half, led by Shackelford’s sharp shooting from deep. Alabama led by 16 at halftime and withstood every charge the Bulldogs made in the second half to hand Gonzaga its second loss in three games.
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Gonzaga trailed by as many as 18 at the beginning of the second half, but pulled within 76-72. The Bulldogs missed several chance to cut the deficit, and Davison and Quinerly hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Crimson Tide a big cushion.
Shackelford made 10 of 16 shots and all six of his 3-pointers came in the first half. He tied his career high in points, set during the 2019-20 season against Auburn. Davison finished with 20 points off the bench and Quinerly added 17.
“Obviously, playing for coach who gives you the freedom and draws stuff up for you, so just going out there and taking the right shots,” Shackelford said. “When you take the right shots, you’re rewarded for it.”
Drew Timme led Gonzaga (7-2) with 23 points, but it was another sputtering offensive performance for the Zags, who lost to Duke last week in Las Vegas and looked lethargic in a win over Tarleton State earlier this week.
Julian Strawther had 13 points, and Anton Watson and Chet Holmgren 10 each for Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs didn’t hit perimeter shots at key times and struggled badly at the free-throw line.
“Played much better defense the second half, played with way better energy, spirit and got us back into it,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “And then, again, we just weren’t good that last four minutes.”
Alabama led 53-35 in the opening seconds of the second half, Gonzaga pulled within 74-70 and 76-72 on Watson’s rebound basket with 5:27 left, the closest the Bulldogs had been since late in the first half.
Gonzaga was empty on its next three possessions and Davison’s 3-pointer pushed the Alabama lead back to seven with 3:33 left. Quinerly added a 3 the next time down for Alabama and the lead was 10.
The Crimson Tide had missed five straight 3-point attempts before Davison’s make.
“Both those guys showed they’re big-time players,” Oats said. “It was time to step up and make some plays and our defense got some stops.”
It was the return of Gonzaga playing one game per season in Seattle. The event had lost its luster and some of its marquee opponents from when the game first started in the early 2000s. The last game was in 2015, a 86-79 win over Tennessee.
There was also the lack of a place to play in recent years while Climate Pledge Arena was undergoing its transformation. But the operators of the arena made a big push for Gonzaga to be the first marquee basketball game played in the building — aside from some Seattle University home games.
“It was a spectacular environment in there and really cool to be back in Seattle,” Few said.
Alabama: Shackelford was nearly perfect in the first half, making 7 of 8 shots and six 3-pointers. His step-back 3 at the halftime buzzer gave Alabama a 51-35 lead at the break. Shackelford had not made more than five 3s in a game yet this season. More than half of Alabama’s first-half field goals came from behind the 3-point line with 10 3s and just eight field goals inside the arc.
Gonzaga: The Zags were terrible at the free-throw line, finishing 13 of 25 and missing the front end of one-and-one situations several times. Entering the game, the Bulldogs were 71.2% from the line.
Alabama: Hosts No. 15 Houston on Saturday.
Gonzaga: Hosts Merrimack on Thursday.