Women’s basketball falls in quarterfinals of SEC tournament

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

Few things have come easy for the Alabama Crimson Tide (17-13, 6-10) this conference season. The SEC women’s basketball tournament in Nashville was no different. 

Alabama put out a complete team effort and stunned fans with a quarterfinal run in the SEC tournament. The 11th-seeded Crimson Tide defeated the No. 14-seed Auburn Tigers and the No. 6-seed Georgia Bulldogs before running out of steam against the No. 3-seed Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

First round: No. 14 Auburn

After defeating Vanderbilt in the regular season finale, Alabama solidified its place as the 11th seed in Nashville. That meant a third matchup with in-state rivals the Auburn Tigers. It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season — the Crimson Tide swept the regular-season two-game series.Alabama had to beat the Auburn Tigers three times to keep its postseason hopes alive. 

The Crimson Tide answered the bell in Bridgestone Arena. 

Alabama defeated the Tigers 75-68 Wednesday afternoon. This was the seventh straight win over the in-state rivals. The Crimson Tide, with this win, had won five of their last seven games. 

It was once again the guard show in Nashville on Wednesday. Senior guards Megan Abrams and Brittany Davis combined for 40 points against Auburn. Abrams led the team in scoring with 25 points. 

Davis and guard JaMya Mingo-Young recorded double-doubles on Wednesday. Davis scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Mingo-Young scored 14 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. 

Forward Allie Craig Cruce wowed the fans in Nashville and at home. The Killen, Alabama, product — in just her second start of the season — scored 14 points from the 5 spot. Cruce was 3-for-3 from downtown in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beater to end the first quarter. 

“It was amazing,” Abrams said about Cruce’s performance. “I’m just so proud of her. She continues to work and she stepped up big today for us.” 

Alabama struggled offensively to start the game. Despite Cruce scoring a  3-pointer for the Crimson Tide, Alabama trailed 10-6 halfway through the first frame. The Crimson Tide made just two field goals on seven attempts.

Auburn shot 50.0% from the field, including one from beyond the arc.

Alabama began making its shots after the media timeout. The Crimson Tide went 8-of-14 from the field in the first quarter. Alabama led Auburn 22-15 at the end of the first quarter .

The strong offense continued in the second frame. Alabama went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter. That run stretched Alabama’s lead to 29-20 with seven minutes left.

The Tigers didn’t go away easily, however. Auburn was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field toward the end of the second quarter. The Tigers now only trailed 33-30 with two minutes left. A last-second jump shot by Mingo-Young was no good. Alabama went into the locker room at halftime leading 35-31.

“This team, this is a resilient bunch of kids,” Auburn head coach Johnnie Harris said. “They bounce back time and time again.” 

The Tigers came out roaring in the second half of action. 

Davis opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer. The Tigers answered that bucket with a 10-0 run over the course of three minutes. Auburn once again took advantage, now leading 43-40.

Davis ended the run with a free throw. Alabama didn’t make a bucket for more than six minutes before that free throw. 

Alabama scored on back-to-back possessions to make it a one-point game, thanks to a pair of layups by Mingo-Young and guard Hannah Barber.  

Free-throw shooting kept Alabama close at the end of the third quarter. The Crimson Tide were 6-of-9 from the charity stripe. However, Alabama still trailed Auburn 53-50 at the end of the third frame. 

It took a total team effort, but Alabama finally snatched the lead again with 86 seconds left in regulation. The Crimson Tide led Auburn 68-61.

Despite the Tigers attempting to take control by committing fouls, Alabama defeated Auburn 75-68.

“We had some adversity early on with some foul trouble,” Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said. “I thought our kids just stayed the course, loved our grit and toughness down the stretch.” 

The Crimson Tide were excited about the win but knew their focus had to turn to their next opponent: Georgia.

“It feels good, especially when you swept them the whole season,” Mingo-Young said. “Like she [Curry] said, it feels good right now, but we got to get ready for Georgia tomorrow.” 

Second round: No. 6 Georgia 

On Jan. 9, Alabama looked to upset the then-No.15 Georgia Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide — behind some stellar 3-point shooting — led the Bulldogs at halftime 48-29. However, Alabama’s shots stopped falling, and Georgia seized control in the second half, winning 72-68.  

The Crimson Tide earned their revenge and defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 74-62 Thursday night in Nashville. Alabama, at that point of the season, had won five of its last six games, including the last three.

Davis and Abrams combined for 50 points in the second round. This is the second game this season in which the pair have combined for 50 points.

 Davis led the Crimson Tide in scoring with 26 points on 9-of-16 from the field. She made five 3-pointers during Thursday’s win. Davis also added five rebounds and steals. 

Abrams scored 24 points Thursday night. This was the second straight game of scoring 20 or more points. She added seven rebounds.

Cruce, in her third consecutive start, scored 10 points. The graduate student also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds.

Alabama shot 47.3% from the field, including 50.0% from downtown. The Crimson Tide also scored 23 of their 74 points off Georgia’s 18 turnovers.

The first quarter started off differently in Nashville. Georgia opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers for a 6-0 lead. Alabama knew it would need to weather the early storm from the Bulldogs. 

“We just weathered their runs and stuck together,” Curry said. “I think we learned a lot from the first game.” 

Everything the Crimson Tide learned was on full display after that initial run. 

Davis scored Alabama’s first 11 points to give the Crimson Tide an 11-8 advantage midway through the first quarter. By the end of the first frame, Alabama stretched its lead to 18-10. 

Senior guard Taylor Sutton came off the bench in the second and scored right away. That gave Alabama a 20-10 lead. The momentum was fully in Alabama’s corner as Georgia fans in the crowd looked on in shock. 

But the Bulldogs still had a bit of bite left in them. 

Georgia then went on a 7-0 run to close the gap. The 10-point Alabama lead was now just 3 points. 

Cruce snatched the momentum away from the Bulldogs with yet another 3-point bucket. 

Alabama took a 15-point lead into the locker room at halftime, 37-22. The Crimson Tide — like on Jan. 9 — had the 2021 SEC tournament runner-up on the ropes. 

“You could hear our kids going down the hallway at halftime saying, ‘Not again,’” Curry said. 

Alabama continued its strong performance at the start of the second half. The Crimson Tide went on a 9-2 run at the start of the third frame. Georgia head coach Joni Taylor, trying to regroup her team, called a timeout. Alabama’s bench, on the other hand, was electrified. 

With Alabama now leading by 20 points — its best lead of the game so far — Georgia came out of the huddle looking to replicate what happened in Athens, Georgia, just under two months ago. 

The Crimson Tide refused to let that happen. 

Despite a 7-0 scoring run from the Bulldogs midway through the third frame to cut the lead to 13, Alabama never relinquished the lead. The 2021 SEC tournament runner-up — looking to avenge its loss to South Carolina in last year’s title game — was bounced out of the tournament in the second round. 

“I thought Alabama punched first and we never responded,” Taylor said.

Among the fans in the crowd watching this massive upset were Kellie Harper and her Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Harper’s team, as the No. 3 seed, faced the winner of this game. 

Another showdown with Alabama was booked, and Harper made sure her team was prepared this time. 

Quarterfinals: No. 3 Tennessee

Alabama — on a rainy and windy night on Feb. 17 — upset the then-12th-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers. The Crimson Tide led by as much as 20 points during the Feb. 17 matchup. 

That didn’t happen Friday night in Bridgestone Arena. 

Alabama fell to the Lady Vols 74-59 in the quarterfinal round of the SEC tournament. Tennessee snapped Alabama’s three-game win streak and avenged last month’s loss. 

Abrams led the team in scoring with 19 points. She also added four rebounds and one assist. Cruce rallied 12 points on 4-of-9 from the field and a perfect 3-of-3 from the line.

 Mingo-Young led the team in rebounds and steals with six and three, respectively. Barber paced the Crimson Tide on four assists. 

In the prior game against Georgia, Alabama led for most of the game. Against Tennessee, the Crimson Tide trailed the entire game. The Lady Volunteers had their largest lead in the first quarter after jumping out to a 15-5 lead. 

The Crimson Tide shot 31.7% from the field on 19-of-60, while the Lady Volunteers shot 46.4% from the field, making 25 of their 56 attempts. Alabama made five 3-point field goals and 16 free throws in the game, compared to the Vols’ six from long range and 16 makes at the line. 

After scoring 50 points against the Bulldogs, Abrams and Davis combined for only 23 points on Thursday. Tennessee managed to cut 60% of Alabama’s offense during the SEC tournament. 

“Those two players have been really dynamic,” Harper said. “I think our defense did a really good job of not giving them easy looks.” 

Offensively, Alabama started the game slow, making just one of its nine attempts from the field and zero of its five attempts from long range in the first five minutes. Tennessee, however, came out energetic and took control of both sides of the court early on. The Lady Volunteers led Alabama 8-3 and made four of their nine attempts from the field to start the game.

At the end of the first frame, Tennessee led the Crimson Tide 15-5. The Lady Volunteers went on a 5-0 run before the first buzzer sounded. The Crimson Tide shot just 12.5% from the field in that quarter, compared with Tennessee’s 46.7%

Tennessee continued its offensive momentum into the second quarter. The Lady Volunteers started the second frame on a 7-0 scoring run. Alabama shot the ball better in the second quarter, shooting 31.3% from the field.

If the Crimson Tide were to mount a comeback against Tennessee, they would have to do it without their head coach. Curry committed two technical fouls before halftime and was bounced from the game. 

“I’m not going to apologize for the passion,” Curry said of her ejection after the game. “I appreciate the question, but if I talk about officiating, I’ll be held accountable.” 

At the start of the third quarter, it seemed like Curry’s ejection gave the Crimson Tide a bit of extra energy. Alabama scored 12 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter. However, the early success would be too little, too late. Alabama didn’t score a field goal for the final five minutes in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was more of the same. Harper and the Lady Volunteers tightened their grip on the game and booked their ticket to a semifinal matchup with No. 7 Kentucky. 

What’s next? 

At Tide Tipoff in October, Curry said that the team’s goal was to get back to the NCAA tournament. During the 2020-2021 season, Alabama earned its first NCAA tournament bid since 1999. 

The Crimson Tide looked to be a strong contender in nonconference play, boasting a 10-2 record before their first SEC game against the Lady Volunteers. 

However, things haven’t exactly gone as planned during conference play. Alabama lost six of its first seven conference games. The Crimson Tide turned things around in February and the first few days of March — winning eight of the last 10 games — but it may not be enough for the NCAA tournament. 

Before Friday’s game against Tennessee, ESPN analyst and bracketologist Charlie Creme said that Alabama could move onto the NCAA tournament bubble with a win. The Crimson Tide were just outside the bubble before Friday’s game. The Women’s National Invitation Tournament is not out of the question, but it wasn’t the goal Alabama set out to accomplish at the start of the season.

Regardless of where the Crimson Tide will play in the postseason, the SEC will be well represented. The conference is projected to have nine teams in the 2022 NCAA women’s basketball tournament. 

“It’s going to be exciting watching the SEC in the NCAA tournament,” Curry said. “I just hope we’re in it.” 

Alabama will learn its postseason fate next Sunday, March 13, during NCAA Selection Sunday. The WNIT bracket will be announced on Monday, March 14.