By Drew Hill
Special to Tidesports.com
Alabama women’s basketball is a long way from where it began the season. It’s latest maneuver was a 81-57 victory in the first round of the Women’s NIT over Mercer, but the Crimson Tide’s path now stretches further after an easy win over the Bears.
The win was the first postseason tournament victory in coach Kristy Curry’s tenure with Alabama, but the pressure wasn’t anything new to the players who battled Tulane in the WNIT one season ago.
“It’s a testament to how much our kids want to win, continue to grow the program and be successful,” Curry said. “We’ve learned, and we learned how it felt a year ago losing at Tulane, and to get a 20th win is a step forward.”
Because of that experience, Alabama looked ready, and the same could not be said for Mercer. Crimson Tide guards Jordan Lewis and Meoshonti Knight made it a point to throw the ball down low to the Crimson Tide post players with a distinct size advantage over the Bears. Alabama scored 10 of its first 12 points in the paint, and 44 over the entire game.
“One of our goals going into this week was to get it into the paint,” forward Ashley Williams said. “Pretty much getting it inside and out, finding the guards who are spotting up on the (3-point line).”
Mercer, on the other hand, shot a dismal 19 percent from the floor in the first quarter, with four looks from the outside failing to make contact with the rim. But the struggles for the Bears didn’t last much longer, because Mercer scored 22 second quarter points, cutting the Crimson Tide’s lead from 12 to three going into halftime.
“They had their run, we’ll have an even bigger run,” Alabama guard Hannah Cook said was the halftime message. “That’s what ended up happening. They picked up the tempo, but we just slowed down, we didn’t play their pace we played our pace.”
Although Mercer’s offensive woes seemed to have vanished in the second half, Alabama used balanced scoring from its juniors to maintain its lead over the Bears for the rest of the game.
UA stretched the advantage to its largest in the final quarter, piecing together an insurmountable 24-point edge. Mercer’s 3-point deficit at halftime was the closest the Bears came to threatening Alabama.
Leading the charge for Alabama was the freshman point guard Lewis, contributing 10 points along with seven assists to lead all Crimson Tide guards. She was joined by forward Ashley Williams atop the stat sheet, who added her second double-double of the season with game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide will move on to play Arkansas-Little Rock in the second round, with date and location still pending.