Following the blowout victory over Alabama on Thursday night, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair directed some encouraging words toward the Crimson Tide.
“Alabama is a team that can make the NCAA Tournament, but they have got to win the games they are supposed to win,” Blair said. “When you are short-handed like they were tonight, we were supposed to win.”
Vanderbilt at Alabama
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Vanderbilt 5-15, 1-5 SEC, Alabama 13-6, 3-3 SEC
Radio: 93.3 FM
With Alabama post players Ashley Williams and Jasmine Walker not 100 percent, the Crimson Tide could be missing its leading rebounder and a potential double-digit scorer again on Sunday.
Williams missed Alabama’s last game with an upper-body injury, and was taken off the court on a stretcher against Mississippi State last Sunday. Six minutes into Thursday’s game against the Aggies Walker took a hard fall and left the game with a limp. She did not return.
If both players can’t go against Vanderbilt, UA will lose a big chunk of its inside presence. However, Crimson Tide’s questionable health will have little impact on its expectations for the game.
Short-handed or not, the Crimson Tide’s matchup with Vanderbilt is not only a game it’s supposed to win, but a game it must win to stay in the NCAA Tournament conversation. A loss to the Commodores would be a severe dent in Alabama’s postseason resume.
Vanderbilt enters Coleman Coliseum with a 1-5 league record, ranking last in the SEC. The Commodores’ five conference losses have come by a combined 86 points, and opponents are outscoring the 5-15 team by an average of nine points per game. Don’t expect that to change Alabama’s sense of urgency.
“Any win the SEC is just as important, and just as hard,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s the SEC, and it’s harder, and it just means more. Seriously, the slogan is so fitting. It’s not about who we are playing, and that’s how we need to be. When we are how we need to be, we feel like we can beat anybody in this league.”
Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, Vanderbilt also ranks last in the SEC in rebounding, the area where Alabama suffers the most without Williams. Alabama has won all three conference games in which it won the battle on the glass, and dropped all three when being out-rebounded.
After being dominated inside last game, Curry will need to find consistency from her other post players to help compensate for the potential losses of Williams and Walker. That search will likely start with senior Quanteria Bolton.
“We just have to go back to work,” Bolton said after Thursday’s loss. “We have to make sure that our practice habits are not like they were (against Texas A&M), and do everything that the coaches ask in practice because it starts there.”
Bolton began the season on the bench, but has since started the last nine games for the Crimson Tide. In the past, she has served as a streaky scorer, and also a reliable player that Curry can trust late in games because of her free-throw shooting.
In 18 games this season Bolton is averaging 14 minutes, five points and three rebounds.