The roster is the same. So is the goal: Make it to the NCAA Tournament.
A season ago, Alabama women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry took the Crimson Tide to places it hadn’t been in a very long time. Alabama won 20 games for the first time since 1999, beat rival Tennessee twice, finally conquered the team’s road woes and reached the WNIT quarterfinals for the first time in 15 years. It was still missing the perfect ending.
“From the moment we walked in here over 1,200 days ago the goal was to take this program back to the NCAA Tournament, and it was a mess,” Curry said. “No one is criticizing that, or finding an excuse with that. But, the progress that we’ve made, I can tell you that I’m extremely proud of everyone.”
If there’s any year for Alabama to get over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament, it’s this one. Curry’s first recruiting class she signed at Alabama is one season away from moving on. Six seniors and two star transfers headline one of the deepest and most experienced teams Curry has been around in her coaching career. She knows it’s the last chance she’ll have with this group intact, and she would hate for them to come up just short of the ultimate goal.
“I want to see this team be the first team to put that NCAA Tournament on a banner because there’s not been a group of people that I’ve ever, ever been around that have worked any harder or been more committed to trying to do everything the right way,” Curry said. “It’s a mission I’m on relentlessly now for the next four months, and it has been since the moment they walked in the door.”
Along for the entire ride with Curry has been fifth-year senior Ashley Williams, a player who Curry said she could co-write a book with because all of their experience together. The forward led the Crimson Tide in rebounding last season with 5.7 per game, and has played a crucial part in building the culture that Curry hoped to establish in her first five years on the job.
“I don’t think (this season) is any different,” Williams said. “We still have the same group of people, and we’ll add our transfers in come SEC season. So, I think it will be the same.”
The Crimson Tide returned every player from a season ago, throwing out the need to compensate for a loss in a statistical category this preseason. In addition to all the returnees, transfers Amber Richardson and Jasmine Walker will be eligible to play for the Crimson Tide in December. Walker, a Florida State transfer, was 2016 Alabama Miss Basketball and was rated the No. 5 post player in the 2016 class by ESPNW. Richardson, an N.C. State transfer, was rated the No. 9 wing and No. 72 overall recruit in the class of 2015 by ESPNW.
The wealth of experience is an ideal situation for Curry, who can push her players further towards self-improvement and away from distractions of adjusting to college life. Freshman forward Ariyah Copeland is the only player who hasn’t played at the college level.
On offense, Hannah Cook and Meo Knight should once again be the Crimson Tide’s top scorers after averaging double-digit points last season. Cook, a senior, was also Alabama’s top shooter from the outside, making 35 percent of her 3-point shots.
Junior Shaquera Wade, perhaps the most athletic player for the Crimson Tide, will likely be the Crimson Tide’s best two-way player. Wade excels at creating steals and finishing as a slasher on the offensive end. With just three juniors on the roster, she will be first in line to take over as a leader next season.
Also expected to make noticeable improvement are sophomores Ashley Knight and Jordan Lewis. Last season Knight set the Alabama single-season blocks record, finishing second in the conference in blocks per game. The 6-foot-5 sophomore struggled at the free-throw line at times, but Curry has bragged about her efforts to improve in that area this offseason.
Due to ankle injuries, it is not expected that Lewis or senior Quanetria Bolton will play in the first game of the season against Alabama A&M. Expect senior point guard Alana Da Silva to see increased playing time in Lewis’ absence.
Alabama A&M at Alabama
When: 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 10
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Radio: 100.1 FM