Somehow, calling what Alabama did on Dec. 4 a huge win, as coach Nate Oats did, seems to underplay it just a little bit.
Playing a de facto road game in Seattle against then-No. 3 Gonzaga, the Crimson Tide raced out to a 16-point halftime lead and then overcame terrible foul trouble in the second half for a 91-82 decision.
That outcome jumped Alabama up from No. 16 to No. 9 in this week’s Top 25, lending more of a big-time feel to its home game Saturday night against No. 14 Houston in Tuscaloosa.
“I really thought our guys came ready to play,” Oats said. “I thought our energy out of the gate was really good. It’s a lot easier playing with the lead than behind. I thought our defensive intensity was good.”
How good were the Tide on defense? A Gonzaga team that was averaging nearly 86 points struggled to get close to that average. The Zags made less than 45 percent of their shots and Alabama earned a 43-42 edge on the glass to boot.
Offensively, the Tide (7-1) canned 13 3-pointers in 34 attempts, including 10 in the first half. Jaden Shackelford scored 20 of his game-high 28 points before halftime, tying his career high, and praised Oats’ approach.
“Obviously, playing for a 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.”
Shackelford is averaging 19.3 points per game and 6.8 rebounds to lead the Alabama attack. Jahvon Quinerly adds 14.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Keon Ellis hits for 12.1 points while grabbing a team-high 6.9 rebounds.
The Tide’s high-powered attack, which puts up 86.4 points per game, will get a stiff test from the Cougars (8-1). Kelvin Sampson’s teams have always been known for tough, physical defense, and Houston’s 77-45 rout of Alcorn State on Monday was no different.
Houston limited the Braves to 31.3 percent field goal shooting while forcing 20 turnovers that led to 30 points. The Cougars also earned a 40-32 advantage on the glass and allowed just 16 points in the paint.
“The hardest thing to teach in basketball is defense,” Sampson said. “Offense sells tickets, but defense and rebounds win championships. It is impossible to defend a rebound.”
Defense led to a fair amount of offense for Houston as it produced 18 fast-break points. It got 18 points off the bench from Tramon Mark, plus 17 from Marcus Sasser. Kyler Edwards and Connecticut transfer Josh Carlton each added 12 points.
Sasser is averaging 17.7 points and making 33 of 68 3-pointers while also leading the team with 23 steals. Edwards chips in 13 points per game and Mark hits for 11.8. Most impressively, opponents are managing just 53.4 points per game and shooting only 35.7 percent.
“We make our defense look easy, so people just take it for granted,” Sampson said.
This will be the first meeting between these programs since 1979, when the Cougars won at the old Sun Bowl Tournament to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
–Field Level Media