By Drew Hill
Special to Tidesports.com
- Who: Mercer at Alabama
- When: 7 p.m.
- Where: Coleman Coliseum
- Records: Alabama 19-13, Mercer 25-6
- Radio: 100.1 FM
The process of building a team back to NCAA Tournament caliber takes time. There are plenty of paths a program can take on its way back to prominence, but none guarantee success. Fortunately for Alabama women’s basketball, a few clear milestones along its journey lie ahead.
Thursday night’s Women’s NIT matchup with the Mercer Bears will be another opportunity for UA to play this season, and it will also be a chance to earn the first postseason win in coach Kristy Curry’s tenure with the Crimson Tide.
“We have an opportunity for a 20-win season,” Curry said. “We have a chance to improve from a year ago and get a first-round win. There are so many opportunities to do more ‘firsts’ that haven’t been done in a while.”
Alabama should be adjusted to the tournament format by now, earlier this month Curry’s team reached another first under her guidance. UA fought its way into the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1999, making it all but official it would be receiving another postseason invitation.
“Anytime you make it to the postseason practices are important too,” Curry said. “It gives you a chance to continue to practice and get your team better every day.”
UA’s on-court performance has shown its emphasis on free throws and rebounding in practice. They are the biggest strengths for the Crimson Tide, and succeeding in those two categories will be critical against the Bears.
Alabama finished second in the SEC in rebounding only behind Tennessee, a team it beat twice this season, outrebounding the Lady Volunteers by a total of 97-69. The Crimson Tide grabbed 813 rebounds on the defensive end alone this season, limiting opponent’s second-chance opportunities.
The impact of rebounding for UA goes even more in-depth. Alabama’s defensive rebounding ability has allowed guards Jordan Lewis and Meoshonti Knight to quickly get into transition and draw fouls while driving to the basket on the fast break. The two guards scored a combined 197 points from the free-throw line the season, and both fall within the top three scorers on the Crimson Tide.
Mercer, on the other hand, is allowing just nine free throws per game to opponents, well below Alabama’s average free throw attempts per game (14.9). The Bears have also had success rebounding the ball this season, but average four fewer rebounds per game than the Crimson Tide. Against its only SEC competition this season, Mercer was outrebounded by the Georgia Bulldogs 43-29.
The Bears are led offensively by guards Kahlia Lawrence and Sydni Means. Means ranks 11th in the NCAA in assists this season, and many of her passes head in the direction of Lawrence, the team’s leading scorer.
Alabama’s game against the Bears will be the school’s sixth appearance in the WNIT.