The Battle in Seattle returned after a several year hiatus, but it didn’t yield a win for the Gonzaga Bulldogs who fell to Alabama 91-82 in a disappointing showing despite a raucous and supportive crowd trying to push them to victory.
The Bulldogs haven’t looked like themselves since the demolition of UCLA in Las Vegas, and appear to have taken several steps backward on their developmental arc this season. There were far too many mistakes and breakdowns for a team with national championship aspirations. Of course, plenty of credit should be given to the Crimson Tide who didn’t allow a tough road environment to rattle them as they gained early control and held on despite the inevitable push from the Zags.
Alabama boat raced Gonzaga in the first half. There’s no way to sugar coat it. The Zags looked two steps behind the Tide on every possession. You never want to see guys flying around trying to recover and close out wide open threes on the perimeter, let alone for an entire half. But that’s exactly what we saw from Gonzaga as the Crimson Tide made their simple drive-and-kick offense look like a riddle that the Zags had no idea how to solve. It was a tough watch.
Perhaps the most frustrating bit was watching Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford open time after time as he lit up Gonzaga’s defense with 20 points on 6-7 shooting from the three-point line in the first half. It was a transcendent shooting performance, and you could say it was just one of those nights, sure, but the Zags didn’t exactly do much to make things more difficult for him as he torched them.
Gonzaga’s offense in the first wasn’t much better. With the defense only creating a handful of transition opportunities, which should be this team’s bread and butter with the personnel on the roster, Alabama was able to set up its halfcourt defense and throw waves of guys at Timme thanks to some atrocious spacing from the offense as a whole. While Timme notched 15 points in the half, he worked hard for all of them. Beyond Timme, Gonzaga struggled to get much of anything going for anyone else, and didn’t take advantage of their frequent trips to the free throw line going 13-25 in the game.
Sallis and Nembhard were the next highest scorers at 4 points. Add it all up, and Gonzaga limped to the locker room with a 51-35 deficit, which represented the program’s largest halftime deficit since February 2009 against John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers.
Gonzaga emerged from the locker room looking better, though there was nowhere to go but up after the performance produced in the first half. The defense strung some stops together and the offense began to play a little more cohesively as the Zags trimmed Alabama’s lead down to 9 a couple of times.
With every push, Alabama seemed to come up with an answer. Shackelford continued his transcendent performance by demonstrating his all-around game and taking it to the basket more frequently (I suspect that Nembhard is going to feel sick when he watches this game tape back). To their credit, the Zags continued to claw back and displayed some moxie powered by a burst from freshman Nolan Hickman in the middle of the second half when he converted consecutive threes to power a stretch that saw Gonzaga narrow the deficit down to 4.
Unfortunately, that was as close as they would get as Alabama dominated the final three minutes of the game to run away with it comfortably.
The loss is the third consecutive game where the Zags have looked extremely subpar relative to their standards and what this team is capable of. There is a lot of work to do in the weeks ahead.