After an overtime loss to Georgia on Feb. 4, Alabama was in a deep hole. Offensive production was down from the first half of the season. Alabama had been consistently out-rebounded, and the team struggled to limit turnovers.
It was clear that the Rebels, coming off a win over No. 14 Kentucky, would present a challenge for the Tide. Last season, Curry’s squad managed a one-point victory over Ole Miss in Oxford. But the lineup has changed since that hard-fought match.
“They’re such a different team,” Curry said. “I mean, they’ve got what? Four new starters? So, it’s really hard to compare that.”
After the win against Ole Miss last season, Alabama went 5-2 in February, spurred by that come-from-behind victory against Ole Miss. This season, however, Ole Miss won’t be a spark for the team. The Tide lost 67-62, despite a push in the third quarter that put Alabama up by two points.
Alabama had their chances. They could not capitalize.
To start off the game, Ole Miss went on a 12-2 run. Alabama went scoreless for nearly three minutes in the first quarter, one of five scoring droughts the team suffered. Though the players’ shooting ability has been enviable this season, Alabama struggled to make shots against Ole Miss’s 1-2-2 press.
The Rebels forced Alabama to slow down their offense and make contested shots. Alabama’s offense hinges on smooth ball-passing and creating open looks for shooters inside and outside the paint, so the Rebels’ defense created an opportunity for Alabama to show off their decision making skills against a tough press defense.
Alabama did not showcase that on Thursday night.
Despite not being able to create and make shots consistently, Alabama tied the game at 62 late in the fourth quarter. After all of the offensive and defensive mistakes, it seemed like Alabama was gonna pull off the great escape.
Ole Miss shut the trap door immediately.
Late game errors helped the Rebels get to the line and shore up the victory with free throws. When Ole Miss scored the last three buckets of the game, it was official: the Rebels had given Alabama their fourth straight loss. In her postgame remarks, Curry said she wanted to see the team shake off the disappointment.
“At the end of the day, we just have to regroup,” the coach said. “I told our team that we’ve been here before. We have to fight and claw and scrape. I thought that locker room, right there, has to get some things situated as far as approach.”
The team had to regroup quickly before facing the rival Auburn Tigers in Auburn Arena. The team’s bounce-back performance needed to be comprehensive—so it was.
Fueled by senior forward Jasmine Walker’s 41-point performance, Alabama defeated the Tigers 92-78. Alabama’s offense drained 15 three-pointers, a stark contrast to the four made against Ole Miss. Overall, the Crimson Tide shot for 50.8% from field goal range.
Both Ole Miss and Auburn played press defense against Alabama, but each team had dramatically different results. An emphasis on assists made the difference for the team. Against Ole Miss’s 1-2-2 press, Alabama had seven assists the entire game.
On Sunday, Alabama made 25 assists, more than three times the team’s Thursday total. Alabama’s ability to pass the ball, find open looks and create open lanes to drive inside made the Auburn game much easier on the Crimson Tide offensively. Alabama did commit 12 turnovers, but Auburn has proven itself to be strong in forcing those errors. Alabama also combatted the turnovers with excellent defending of the glass and getting defensive rebounds.
Alabama’s bench production also contributed to the complete attack on the Tigers. Recently, Curry discussed the need for more offensive contribution from the bench. Sunday’s performance was just what the doctor—and Coach Curry—ordered.
Alabama scored 12 points from the bench. The surge was led by junior forward Allie Craig Cruce, who scored eight points. Curry decided to go to her bench early and it paid dividends. Going to the bench gave Alabama extra ball-handlers like Taylor Sutton and the ability to pressure Auburn defensively. Alabama needed a productive night from their bench heading into the last stretch of the season, and they got that.
Sunday was precisely the kind of game that could facilitate another push at the NCAA tournament.
This weekend showed the resiliency of this team. Deep in a hole, Alabama could have easily gone to the wayside and not find a way to start winning. Alabama has found its way out of the hole, but there remains a question as to whether they can stay above ground. After their loss against Tennessee, Curry stated that this team needed to learn how to handle success.
Well, tonight was a successful night.
Alabama cannot let up off the brakes should they want to mimic the late season run from last season.