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Gonzaga beats ‘Bama

The Bulldogs played their best basketball of the season against the Crimson Tide.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Gonzaga Bulldogs found their form at the most opportune time in a trip to Birmingham, Alabama. Despite a hostile crowd and facing an Alabama team that just picked up a win against the #1 team in the country last weekend, the Zags showed their class in a 100-90 win.

Alabama’s Brandon Miller may have scored 36 points, but it was Drew Timme who showed why he should be the Wooden Award winner with 29 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Zags.

It wasn’t just the Drew Timme show. Mark Few got a full team performance from everyone, and needed it beat a very good Alabama team. Nolan Hickman overcame foul trouble and showed a calm resolve in the second half in one of his best personal performances of his career with 13 points, 4 assists, and most crucially zero turnovers. Six different Zags scored in double figures, with Anton Watson’s 17 points second behind only Timme. Watson was immense at both ends of the floor in what was also one of his career-best outings.

The first half was a rollercoaster ride. The Tide started the game like a team with its hair on fire. They were first to every loose ball and aggressive getting to the paint which had Gonzaga’s defense on its backfoot. With the crowd in their favor and seemingly endless second/third-chance scoring opportunities thanks to their rebounding prowess, Alabama looked like it was en route to a blowout victory by the first media timeout. But then the tide turned.

Gonzaga’s halfcourt defense came alive thanks in no small part to Hunter Sallis who came off the bench and locked up Alabama’s Jaden Bradley which worked to slow down the Tide’s offense. Sallis, should be credited for being the defensive catalyst that halted Alabama’s momentum early in the first half. His performance showed just how much a defensive gamewrecker can alter the complexion of the game.

Miraculously, Gonzaga managed to stay in the game in the latter stages of the first half despite a protracted offensive drought that lasted over 3 minutes thanks to an 0-10 stretch from the field. To their credit, the Zags didn’t wilt despite finding the rims to be sealed shut during that bleak stretch. The defense doubled down and made things just as difficult for Alabama, enabling Gonzaga to keep their nose in front until the offense found its feet again.

That Gonzaga was able to make it to halftime with a 47-42 lead despite shooting 27% from the three-point line is somewhat remarkable. It took a full team effort, with eight of the nine Zags who logged a minute in the first half scoring a bucket and with all of them making a big play on the defensive end.

The second half started much like the first. Alabama got the crowd back into the game in the opening minute with a 6-2 mini-run that cut Gonzaga’s lead to a single point. But the Zags didn’t wither. Timme and Hickman combined to score eight points by the first media timeout to help Gonzaga hold on to its narrow advantage despite Alabama’s Brandon Miller coming alive offensively during that stretch.

Gonzaga took a 9-point lead, its largest of the game, thanks to back-to-back threes from Watson (not a misprint) and Strawther. But, of course, Alabama happens to be a really good team and would not go away.

Miller almost single-handedly kept pace with Gonzaga’s offense, scoring 24 points in the second half, and despite the best efforts of Strawther and Watson who took turns trying to slow down the star freshman. They made a valiant effort, but there was no slowing Miller down. Keep in mind, however, that despite Miller going nuts for a career-high [], the Zags

Gonzaga has a star too, though. Timme couldn’t let Miller steal the show unchallenged and was immense to help the Zags stay in front despite the Miller onslaught. Unlike Miller, Timme didn’t have to do it alone though. Watson, Strawther, Hickman, Bolton, and Malachi Smith combined to score 36 points in the second half to match Miller’s game total and ease the burden on Timme. That complementary scoring, and some key defensive stops late in the game, proved to be the difference in the second half.

The Zags have been searching for a performance like this one from the entire team. In their last marquee game of a brutal non-conference schedule, they produced it at the perfect time.