No. 4 Alabama set to face No. 15 Gonzaga at Legacy Arena


Courtesy of UA Athletics

12/4/21 MBB Alabama vs Gonzaga Alabama center Charles Bediako (10) Photo by Robert Sutton

Mathey Gibson, Staff Reporter

On Tuesday night, No. 4 Alabama defeated the Memphis Tigers 91-88, marking the fourth time in five games that the Crimson Tide faced a team ranked in the top-25 on KenPom. 

Now standing at 9-1, Nate Oats and company will turn their attention towards a matchup with the No. 15 Gonzaga Bulldogs, who are making the 1,865-mile journey to Birmingham for the C.M. Newton Classic.  

Coming into Saturday’s contest, Mark Few’s squad has won three straight —defeating Kent State, the Washington and Northern Illinois.  

It’s been a mixed bag for Gonzaga so far in 2022-23, with the Bulldogs already having lost to No. 1 Purdue, No. 7 Texas and No. 11 Baylor — but not without grabbing hard fought victories over No. 13 Kentucky and Michigan State.  

Leading the way for Gonzaga is Drew Timme, a two-time consensus All-American who Alabama once recruited 

A 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward hailing from Richardson, Texas, the 2021-22 WCC player of the year favorite is up to his old tricks, averaging 20.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game through 11 contests. 

Joining Timme is Julian Strawther, a switchable 6-foot-7 guard that’s shooting 40% from three and averaging 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. 

Strawther, a Naismith Player of the Year watchlist nominee, has scored in double figures for the Bulldogs in all but two games.  

Strawther and Timme aren’t the only names to keep an eye on though, with Rasir Bolton, Nolan Hickman, Malachi Smith and Hunter Sallis rounding out a deep backcourt in Spokane.  

“Big time game,” Oats said on Thursday. “Gonzaga is Gonzaga. It’s great to be able to get them to come to Birmingham and play us. They’re going to come down here looking to play a good game. We’re going to have to play well.” 

Last season, it was Alabama who made the cross-country trip to Washington for the Battle-in-Seattle, a game in which the Crimson Tide reigned victorious over the then third-ranked Bulldogs, 91-82.  

In what ended up being the high point of a somewhat dysfunctional season, J.D. Davison, Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford combined for 65 points in an effort that saw the Crimson Tide pique the national audience’s curiosity. 

Fast forward a season later, and Alabama finds itself in the spotlight once more — having already secured two victories over No. 1 teams and garnering a top-5 AP ranking. 

While the Crimson Tide certainly have a target on its back for being amongst the nation’s elite, the fourth-year head coach knows there’s still plenty to improve upon.  

“We were not good on either side of the ball for large stretches of the [Memphis] game,” Oats said. “Turnovers late in the game, they scored 13 points in the last 50 seconds we close the game. Give a lot of credit to Memphis, they exposed some stuff that we didn’t do well.” 

A win versus the Bulldogs would go a long way towards Alabama’s quest at securing the No. 1 spot nationally — a position the school hasn’t attained since 2003. Of course, they’ll need a little luck in faltering performances from the current top-3 of Purdue, Virginia, and UConn, but the Crimson Tide are in better shape than ever, and are within mere striking distance of history.  

It’s time to make or break in Tuscaloosa. 

Tipoff for No. 4 Alabama and No. 15 Gonzaga at Legacy Arena is set for Saturday, Dec. 17, at 12:00 p.m. on CBS.  

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]