TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two games into Alabama basketball's trip to Orlando for the ESPN Events Invitational, the shots simply weren't falling for the Crimson Tide.
Between Alabama's two games against Iona and Drake, the Crimson Tide shot just 49-percent from the floor and 26-of-47 from the free-throw line. Neither stat was something that head coach Nate Oats and his players were looking for in their start to the tournament.
In Alabama's final game, though, the Crimson Tide was able to turn things around. While it started the first half off to a similar pace that it had in its first two games at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex, the second half provided some of the best offensive play that Alabama had conducted all season.
From the floor in the second half, the Crimson Tide shot 64-percent and was a solid 13-of-17 from beyond the arc. Heading into Alabama's toughest non-conference stretch of the season, momentum on offense came just in time for the Crimson Tide.
After the game against Miami, Oats noted how crucial it would be for his team to maintain that momentum. On Thursday, he reiterated the same thing.
"The energy's been good," Oats said of his team's mentality in practices this past week. "Shots have been going in — Keon Ellis, [Jaden Shackelford], both had good shooting days, [Jahvon] Quinerly had good shooting days, J.D. [Davison]'s finding guys still — so the ball's moving. I think that's the biggest thing is the ball's gotta keeping moving. When the ball moves, it finds the right guys and we make shots. So when the ball sticks, it tends to end up in more iso basketball and one-on-one.
"The Iona game we had three assists 32 minutes into the game. That's not how we want to play. In the Miami game we had 19 assists in the second half alone. So I feel like the ball has moved in practice this week. The energy has been good."
This Saturday, the No. 16 Crimson Tide will travel to Seattle to play the No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga was ranked No. 1 until suffering a loss at the hands of Duke last week and present Alabama with arguably its toughest non-conference challenge this season.
This season, Gonzaga is ranked second in the country in field goal percentage, averaging .544 from the floor this season. Being so effective from the floor, it is important for Alabama to not only hit shots but to also be mindful from the free-throw line — something that it has struggled with all season.
Crimson Tide junior guard Jaden Shackelford agree with Oats that the energy has been good in practice so far this week.
"I feel like our energy has been good," Shackelford said. "The second half of Miami, it was big for us. We were kinda looking for that spark and, you know, we shot the ball well that half, we defended well. We gotta carry that momentum over and coach Oats emphasized that and I feel like these last two days we've kinda just been trying to build off that going into Gonzaga. We need to play our best game this Saturday so I feel like it was good for us to keep that momentum going."
Alabama basketball has one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, and even after Gonzaga, the schedule doesn't let up. Following the Crimson Tide's trip to Seattle, Alabama will then host Houston in Coleman Coliseum before traveling to face Memphis.
A home game against defending national champion Baylor in the middle of SEC play will also present a tough test for the Crimson Tide, who is still adjusting to its new personnel following key losses to the NBA Draft last offseason.
Fortunately for Alabama, it seemed to be able to finally put its offensive puzzle pieces together against Miami. Heading into Gonzaga, the Crimson Tide is going to need every ounce of success it can muster.
"The second half of the Miami game, we got the intensity up to the level that we always play on," sophomore forward Juwan Gary said. "But we shouldn't be able to have a slow first half and then come out with a faster second half. We should all have both halves like that so the two practices that we've been having, coach has been emphasizing, like, things you know help with momentum on offense and defense — just playing our game and having a level head."