Ask Alabama senior Ashley Williams what part of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament is her favorite, and she’ll respond with an answer most people would not expect.
It’s not the conference camaraderie, the top-level venue in Nashville, or the possibility of playing multiple games in just a few days. Those aspects of the tournament don’t help Alabama win.
Alabama vs. Kentucky (SEC Tournament)
When: Thursday at 12:00 p.m. CST
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Records: Alabama 17-12 (7-9), Kentucky 14-16 (6-10)
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 93.3 FM in Tuscaloosa
Williams’ favorite part of this season’s conference tournament is the first-round bye that the Crimson Tide earned by finishing eighth in the SEC.
“Of course, getting this bye,” Williams said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve probably had one bye. Every time we’ve played on the first day. So, it gets us a chance to at least have a day of rest and get together as a team and focus on what we need to do.”
The fifth-year player is the only member of the Crimson Tide who knows what it’s like to have a relaxed experience on the first day of the conference tournament. Five seasons ago the Crimson Tide also finished 7-9 in the conference to earn a No. 7 seed.
But Williams was a freshman then, and now she’s the leader of a team that finds itself in the same position. By keeping her attitude on winning and not the extracurriculars, she is setting the standard for the rest of her UA teammates.
“(Last year) we went into the tournament knowing that we didn’t deserve to play on the first day, and that we let ourselves down in the middle of the season,” sophomore point guard Jordan Lewis said. “I feel like we had to find ways to win.”
As a longtime college coach, conference tournaments are nothing new to Alabama coach Kristy Curry.
She had her most successful SEC Tournament run with this roster last season when the Crimson Tide reached the quarterfinals for the first time in her tenure with UA. Along the way, Alabama earned its third-straight upset win over Tennessee.
“You have to take what you have learned from the regular season, and allow that to motivate you,” Curry said. “It can be a special few days. One of the things I’ve learned in conference tournaments in previous conference experiences — and this experience — is that you just want your kids to enjoy the experience. The SEC puts on a first-class experience, and, obviously, it’s more fun when you’re winning.”
Alabama should have no problem with motivation coming into its first game of the tournament against No. 9 seed Kentucky. The Wildcats used a big fourth-quarter to blowout the Crimson Tide 74-59 in the regular season.
On top of the chance for revenge, Alabama is also entering Thursday’s game off of back-to-back overtime losses against ranked opponents.
“We lost to Kentucky, and that last fourth quarter was not a great quarter,” Williams said. “So, I think that’s going to give us the motivation to go out there and win.”