The Alabama women’s basketball team kept taking it to Southern on Wednesday night and the Jaguars kept answering.
The Crimson Tide would go up to 10 points or 12 and Southern would gather itself and come back for more.
Southern finally ran out of answers in the fourth quarter of the first-round Women’s NIT game and Alabama ran away for a 69-56 victory at Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama (18-13) will host Central Florida on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a second-round game.
It was obvious from warmups that Alabama was taller and wider, and it used that edge to create a 50-26 rebounding advantage. UA kept pushing the ball inside to score in the paint or get to the free throw line.
Southern dressed only two players 6-foot or taller. Alabama had seven.
“We have pretty big post (players),” said senior 6-foot forward Ashley Williams, who scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. “Their posts were a little smaller so we were taking advantage of that, going inside.”
Alabama led by 10 points late in the first quarter, but Southern got a spark from Jaden Towner, who came off the bench to hit five 3-pointers on the way to a 16-point performance. She hit one late in the first period and two more early in the second quarter to cut UA’s lead to a single point.
The Crimson Tide kept pounding the ball inside to regain control, leading by nine points later in the second quarter before Southern rallied again to cut UA’s lead to 33-30 by halftime.
“I think we did lose focus a little bit at some points,” Williams said. “We talked about it at the half.”
Hannah Cook, a 6-foot senior guard, was listening. She scored all of her 15 points after intermission.
“We fixed some things,” Cook said. “I thought we came out really aggressive the second half.”
Alabama powered to a 51-36 lead with an 11-0 run and was up by nine points going into the final period. Southern cut the margin to six points early in the fourth quarter but UA went 8 for 8 from the free throw line during a 10-2 run that pretty much put the game away.
Southern, which went 7 for 14 from the 3-point line in the first half, was just 3 of 13 from long range in the final two periods.
“Just thought we did a better job of defending the three in the second half,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “Southern was up four (points) heading into the fourth (quarter) at Auburn. They’re a much better team than sometimes I think they get credit for. They won their league. They play really hard and they’re going to make it ugly.”
Jordan Lewis scored 11 points and dished out five assists for Alabama. Jasmine Walker grabbed eight rebounds and Aliyah Copeland added seven.
The Crimson Tide’s size advantage might have been even greater, but UA announced before the game that 6-5 post player Ashley Knight has taken a leave of absence from the team “to tend to family matters.”