More than 2,000 fifth graders from Tuscaloosa City and County schools descended upon Coleman Coliseum for the annual 5th Grade Fastbreak game to cheer the Alabama women’s basketball team to a 75-60 victory over Jacksonville University on Thursday.
Senior Ashley Williams, who led the Crimson Tide with 15 points and 10 rebounds, hugged a line of students waiting in the stands on her way to the locker room.
“Having them out there yelling defense and cheering for us, it means a lot to us,” she said.
Williams went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line and scored Alabama’s first four points, causing the kids to erupt in celebration.
“It’s been really fun. I have not sat down once. I have been standing the whole time,” Maxwell Elementary fifth grader Elaina Caddis said.
Alabama trailed for the majority of the first half. DaiJia Ruffin came off of the bench in the second quarter to spark a 7-0 run. She hit back-to-back jumpers, and had an assist to Hannah Cook on a 3-pointer as Alabama took a 33-29 lead.
The Crimson Tide had a 35-33 halftime advantage and led the rest of the game. Ruffin finished with eight points, and the bench contributed 36 points.
“(Ruffin) has worked so hard to weather what she has weathered with injuries through her career and she just continues to come to work everyday,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “She didn’t play her best against Utah, but we used her as an example. I walk in the gym the other night after the Utah game and the lights are on and the ball is bouncing and it’s her. I love her work ethic and her toughness and today she really came in and did a good job for us. That is the luxury we have this year is a deep bench.”
Cook scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and pulled down nine rebounds. Alana Da Silva finished with 12 points.
Alabama outrebounded Jacksonville 43-34 and forced 11 turnovers.
“I am really proud of our team for going to the boards, and boxing out was huge,” Cook said. “All five of Jacksonville’s players like to go to the offensive boards, so it was a huge goal to box everyone out and go to the boards.”
Jacksonville’s Brandi Buie finished with 18 points. LaKaris Salter had 11 points, including three 3s in the first half and Shakayla Nevitt added 10 points.
“I thought we matched their energy, and they are just relentless on the glass, offensively and defensively,” Curry said. “They are a high energy team and I though we did that. I thought we missed shots and they made shots early, but we just had to weather it.”
Alabama won its only other meeting against Jacksonville in 2013, which was also a 5th grade Fastbreak contest.
The Crimson Tide improve to 3-0 and travels to Georgia Southern on Sunday.
Reach Joey Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0223.