There are too many positive memories from the 2017-18 women’s basketball season for Alabama coach Kristy Curry to mention just one. The same goes for moments of disappointment, but Curry was proud of the way her team responded to adversity this season.
“I think this team’s legacy will be that they left (the program) a whole lot better than they found it,” Curry said. “I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The Crimson Tide came up short of its goal to reach NCAA Tournament. Instead, Alabama finished its season the same way it did last year, with a road loss in the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
A pessimist would look at this season as no steps forward, no steps back, but not Curry. The coach finished her fifth year with the Crimson Tide optimistic, yet gutted for her six seniors who missed the opportunity of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
UA finished 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference this season, matching Curry’s best conference record in her five-year span with the Crimson Tide. The team also earned Alabama’s first-ever win in Knoxville over the Lady Volunteers.
The Crimson Tide was in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid for the entire regular season, but dropped its final two games in overtime against ranked opponents. As the coach pointed out many times this season, teams have made the NCAA Tournament with a conference record of 7-9 in the past, however, Alabama’s RPI fell outside of the range generally considered for an at-large bid.
“To put ourselves in a position for the postseason is always a positive,” Curry said. “We were on the verge of being in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s certainly a step in the right direction for our program. To have another 20-win season back-to-back shows progress forward.”
Ashley Williams, Hannah Cook, Quanetria Bolton, Meoshonti Knight, Coco Knight and Alana Da Silva will move on as the first senior class with back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1999. Together the group of seniors tallied 5,303 career points, 2,551 rebounds, and added three new members (Meoshonti Knight, Cook, and Williams) to the prestigious 1,000-point club.
Not only did this group contribute to two of UA’s most productive seasons in the past 20 years, but Curry credits the seniors for establishing the culture she wanted to create around the program. Many of the players were part of Curry’s original recruiting class at the university.
“They conducted themselves away from the court in a way that represents how we want to be,” Curry said. “That affects 94 feet — So just the overall culture, they really set the tone every day.”
Williams, Alabama’s only fifth-year senior, was the last remaining player from Curry’s first team at UA. The “mother hen” of Alabama will have an impact that lasts longer than the five years she had to offer.
“When we accepted the job there was Nikki Hegstetter and Ashley Williams,” Curry said. “Beyond that there were a few others, but the position the senior class beyond Ashley was put in — normally you don’t get thrown in the fire that quickly, but they were.”
The loss of six players will hurt, but the future of the program is in good hands with returning starters Jordan Lewis and Shaquera Wade. Lewis, a sophomore, led the team in minutes, points and assists during conference play this season. She also made significant improvements from long range, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line. The point guard battled injury at the beginning of the season, but still finished with double-digit points 13 times.
“I’m really, really excited about (Lewis’) direction and where she is going in the future,” Curry said. “She is exactly what we thought we recruited and has just been amazing.”
Wade sets up to be Alabama’s only senior receiving significant minutes next season. The former Miss Basketball in the state of Alabama averaged just under seven points and four rebounds, and excelled on defense with 46 steals.
Transfers Amber Richardson and Jasmine Walker should also be back for the Crimson Tide, along with freshman forward Ariyah Copeland. The three newcomers performed well in added minutes during the WNIT, especially Walker, who scored 39 points across the four games.
“You look at Jasmine Walker, who over the last four games averaged 10 points and seven-and-a-half rebounds in 20 minutes against quality opponents. …We had a lot of positives in our postseason experience for our returnees.”
Headlining what Curry called her most talented recruiting class she’s had at Alabama is Shelton State Community College star, Cierra Johnson. Johnson averaged 22 points per game for the Lady Bucs this season and led her team to the semifinals of the NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament. Johnson finished her Shelton State career by scoring 47 points in the third-place game.
“I’m very excited,” Johnson said. “I feel like I still have a chip on my shoulder. I feel that my only goal is to carry Alabama as far as I can take them or as far as they can go. I want to make the SEC Championships and on, but my only goal is to take them as far as I can take them.”
Four-star commit Gabby Crawford, and three-star commits Megan Abrams, Hannah Barber, De’Sha Benjamin, Allie Craig-Cruce and Taniyah Worth will round out the rest of Alabama’s incoming players.
ESPNW ranks Crawford as the No.16 forward in the class of 2018, and the No. 89 player overall.