For Alabama women’s basketball, last season included some missed opportunities, including reaching the NCAA Tournament. But the team also enjoyed some great moments, like beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the buzzer. This season, the team and head coach Kristy Curry seek to combine last season’s highs with the extended offseason to move on from a disappointing 2019-2020 season.
Last season’s abrupt end
The outbreak of COVID-19 put sporting events in the United States on an extended break. For a team so close to the NCAA Tournament, it is no question that they were disappointed in the abrupt end to the season.
“How last season ended definitely left an emptiness in the girls, especially with the pandemic,” Curry said. “We know how close we were last year, and I think the girls are even more motivated this year to ensure that we are able to reach the tournament. The work ethic of the girls over the offseason has been amazing. They are focused on what they want to accomplish this season.”
Curry also mentioned that the girls took it upon themselves to continue working out during the pandemic and that they’ve handled new pandemic-appropriate practice protocols well. She commended the girls for staying focused and flexible during a time of uncertainty. Fans should expect a highly energetic and motivated team looking to seize their moment and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years.
Limiting mistakes in close games
An area of needed improvement for the Crimson Tide this season will be closing out tight games. In the 2019-2020 season, Alabama had a 7-9 record in games with a 10 point or less differential. If Alabama wins a couple of those games, the team reaches the NCAA Tournament. When asked about these games, Curry listed some of the areas she feels the team needs to be better in during those close games.
“I think that it comes down to decision-making,” Curry said. “The margin for error against SEC competition is so small, so I think the girls need to focus on the little things. But, also, a couple of those games, we were without our point guard. So, staying healthy down the stretch is crucial as well.”
Curry also mentioned how the girls need to have stronger starts and finishes to games. Alabama basketball fans may remember several instances where errors early and late in the game cost the team the victory. One such game was a match-up against Kentucky on Jan. 9, 2020, in which Kentucky outscored Alabama by 19 points in the second quarter, and the differential proved too much for the Crimson Tide to overcome. There was also the game against Hampton on Nov. 6, 2019, where Hampton outscored the Crimson Tide by four points in the fourth quarter and Alabama lost after Hampton’s three-point buzzer-beater.
“I think we let big plays, big seconds, big moments go,” redshirt senior guard Jordan Lewis said. “I think if you want something as big as the NCAA Tournament, you can’t let those seconds go by, you can’t let those plays go by.”
Lewis also mentioned that she and senior forward Jasmine Walker have to set the tone early for the team by going the extra mile and pushing their fellow players to be prepared for the close and tight games.
A high-talent team
The goal of any basketball team is to have a cohesive group of five players on the court at any given time. Players should actively bring the best out of each other, whether in practice or at game. During a Zoom press conference on Wednesday, head coach Kristy Curry said that this team has the most talent that Lewis has been around while being here at Alabama.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring out the best in everyone as the point guard, and so I think you have to find out what your teammates do well and put them in those positions so they can perform,” Lewis said.
Lewis also mentioned how during quarantine, she was able to get closer to her teammates personally. Knowing each other well off of the court has helped play better on court. She also noted how players like junior guard Hannah Barber have spent time watching film in the off-season and worked on their conditioning and approach to their role on the team to improve play on the court. Lewis also said that players like Destiny Rice have also added some energy and grit to the court.
Becoming better leaders
While last season had its fair share of negative moments for the two seniors to learn from, both Walker and Lewis have tried to focus on the positive things from last season and work on becoming better leaders.
“We started the SEC season… 0-4, and we didn’t have any wins,” Lewis said. “We could’ve just laid down and let it all go but I think having that push, having that stretch of big wins, we had confidence in the team.”
Lewis also mentioned that the big wins helped the team buy into what the team is doing at Alabama. Forward Jasmine Walker talked about how she has been working on her vocal leadership on the team. She and Lewis have been focused on being positive and assisting the younger girls with their experiences and knowledge. Both seniors are looking to become more of the leaders Curry wants and needs them to be.
Reevaluating coaching methods
Navigating the events of the past few months has been a struggle for plenty of people inside and outside of sports. No one was prepared for the quarantine period back in March, including Curry. With that being said, the forced downtime also meant time to reflect for Alabama basketball.
“I think [the pandemic period] helped me to look around,” Curry said. “Not only with my team and professionally, but personally that, you know, we certainly don’t need to take some things for granted. That life is short and it’s precious and, sometimes, there are more important things than basketball.”
Curry also mentioned that coaches and staff were focused on creating a positive environment for the women on the team given the far-from-positive circumstances. Curry said that she and the members of the team are having open conversations so she can better support them off the court. Curry has also worked to encourage her players to become better, more well-rounded off the court and love people of all races and identities. As a whole, the team is taking each day at a time.