By (James Ogletree)

Hannah Cook pulled up from just behind the three-point line. The ball landed just inside the rim and dipped down, appearing to be on its way through the net. But it kept circling, once, twice, three times, and rolled up on top of the rim.

It perched there for a moment, and then finally dropped. The crowd of over 2,000 fifth-graders, each ready to release boundless pent-up energy, exploded with glee.

The shot was the end of a three-minute, 9-0 run that propelled Alabama from a five-point deficit to a four-point lead with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter. The team carried the lead into halftime and did not relinquish it, coasting to an eventual 75-60 win over Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon.

For the entire game, the raucous 10- and 11-year olds stomped, sang, barked like dogs, and screamed and screeched with all the volume their deafening, pre-pubescent voices could muster.

“I could feel [their energy],” senior forward Ashley Williams said. “I felt it since we came out to warm up. Having them out there yelling ‘Defense!’ and cheering for us means a lot to us.”

The fifth-graders were already riled up before tipoff, but Alabama’s first defensive rebound by Meo Knight sent them into a frenzy. They got even more boisterous as Jacksonville forward/center Khadijah Brown missed back-to-back free throws in the first quarter, realizing they might be making an impact.

That support helped push the team over the edge; as it battled through fatigue and injuries, the team’s depth was the difference, with bench players scoring 36 points.

Head coach Kristy Curry said before the game that rebounding and matching the Dolphins’ intensity would be the keys to the win. The Crimson Tide ended up with the advantage in rebounds, 43-34, and Curry was pleased with the team’s resolve.

“I thought we matched their energy,” she said. “They are just relentless on the glass offensively and defensively… [We had] 11 turnovers and we out-rebounded them by nine, and I think those two stats show not only physical energy, but also mental energy to make sure we stayed the course and had some toughness.”

Williams mentioned that the team’s goal was to out-rebound Jacksonville by 10. Cook, a senior guard, fell one rebound short of a double-double, and jokingly shouldered the blame for the team falling just short of its goal.

“I’ll take full responsibility for that short one,” Cook said with a smirk. “Because I had nine rebounds instead of 10, so that’s on me.”

Williams, though, did reach 10 rebounds, also leading Alabama with 15 points to record her first double-double of the year. Cook was second on the team with 14 points, including 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

As the teams returned to the court after halftime, both offenses struggled to find their rhythm. Jacksonville’s field goal percentage during the third quarter was 20 percent, and Alabama’s 29 percent clip wasn’t much better. At one point, the Crimson Tide held the Dolphins without a field goal for 6 minutes and 51 seconds of game time.

Nine of Alabama’s 15 points in the quarter were scored by senior guard Alana da Silva, who was also responsible for three of the team’s four field goals. She finished at 57 percent from the field and 75 percent from three-point range.

Ashley Knight, the 6-foot-5 forward who set a team record with 90 blocks last year as a freshman, reached a milestone by blocking a shot for the 100th time in her career. She currently ranks seventh on the Alabama career blocks list.

After three games at home to start the season, the team will start a stretch of five straight games away from Coleman Coliseum when it travels to Statesboro, Georgia to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles on Sunday.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports