By Drew Hill
Special to Tidesports.com
The generic ‘it was a roller coaster of a season’ type of recap doesn’t quite fit the body of work from Alabama women’s basketball in 2016-17.
In many ways, the Crimson Tide’s season was actually linear, from the beginning the team’s progression could be mapped to a straight line headed in a positive direction. Alabama completed the non-conference portion of its schedule at 12-1, and finished the year at 22-14. The team’s 22 wins is its highest total since the 1997-98 season.
Sure, there were also losses, but the Crimson Tide did not have the highest of expectations after being bounced in the first round of the Women’s NIT to end 2016. Alabama played in one of the strongest conferences in the country — the only conference with two teams in the women’s Final Four— and even after blowout losses to the SEC’s elite talent, UA never experienced a drop-off in confidence.
“At the beginning of the season, looking at it, I’m sure not a lot of people would have thought we would make it to where we were,” Alabama freshman Jordan Lewis said. “Although most people would see seasons as a rollercoaster, we were always able to recover, and made something out of a season that could have been different.”
The biggest testament to the team’s steady progression was its surprising run to conclude the season. Alabama had dropped five-straight games between January and February before defeating rivals Tennessee and Auburn in two of the last four regular season games. The team’s confidence snowballed into the SEC Tournament as it reached its first quarterfinals since 2005, and went on to secure a spot in the Elite Eight of the WNIT for the first time since 2002.
“We didn’t focus on the negatives, but focused on the positives and moving forward each day,” coach Kristy Curry said. “I thought that as we headed into the conference tournament the win at Auburn (helped). We had so many positives moving forward. We were able to take that into the WNIT and go as far as we’ve been in the past. I thought as the season went on our team continuously improved.”
It was also a big year for Alabama as individuals. Juniors Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams became the 25th and 26th members of Alabama women’s basketball’s 1,000-point club. Inexperienced players Lewis and Ashley Knight were named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Knight earned 90 blocks to pass Alabama legend Yolanda Watkins for the single-season blocks record, and Lewis became the first Alabama player ever to earn SEC Newcomer of the Year.
“(The individual awards) are just a step forward for the program altogether,” Lewis said. “Alabama isn’t known as ‘the basketball school’, but as a team, we’ve tried to create a different perspective on the whole thing. We tried to show that our players came together, and made a good team this year.”
The news gets even better for Alabama’s coaching staff, the current Crimson Tide players are not going anywhere. UA is set to return its entire roster next season after playing the past year without a single senior.
Curry will also add three transfers, 2016 Alabama Miss Basketball Jasmine Walker from Florida State, Tennessee Martin’s Daijia Ruffin and N.C. State’s Amber Richardson. 6-foot-3 Ariyah Copeland is the only high school senior currently signed to play under Curry next season, but Alabama will look to add one more to its 2017 recruiting class.
“Those three (transfers) have made practices instantly competitive,” Curry said. “It doesn’t matter how many minutes you’ve played here, next year is a brand new season. Those three give us a dimension on the perimeter and at (power forward) that will be very, very good for us next season.”