Late in the possession, with the shot clock winding down and Alabama clinging to a three-point lead over Utah, guard Shaquera Wade’s feet left the ground and the ball left her fingertips, arcing through the air and swishing through the net. She skipped backward to the other end of the court, shouting in ecstasy while swinging her arms, fists pumping.
Utah guard Tori Williams came right back, however. The freshman drained a corner three just 17 seconds later to silence the home crowd and send a jolt through the Utah bench just a few feet behind her.
As Alabama got the ball back, looking to salt away the victory, Wade turned the ball over. From a nearly identical spot, Williams attempted another three-pointer that would have given Utah the lead. The ball bounced off the rim and into the hands of Alabama forward Nene Bolton, who drew a foul.
From that point on, Bolton and guard Hannah Cook combined to make five of six free throws as the Utes were forced to foul, and Alabama pulled out a 65-60 win after trailing 30-25 at halftime.
“I’m just really proud of our team,” head coach Kristy Curry said. “We showed great resiliency and toughness in the second half; it really was ugly in the first half… I thought we came out in the third quarter and were much more aggressive and took shots from our spots and made a few to get us going.”
Wade and senior guard Meo Knight deserve much of the credit for the rally, scoring seven combined points in the first half but 23 in the third quarter on 8 of 11 shooting.
“Different players step up at different times,” Knight said. “It just happened to be me and Shaq today; it might be two other people next time. But you just have to have someone that’s going to step up and take the load.”
The momentum in the third quarter could be traced to the end of the second, when Cook cut a ten-point deficit in half with five points in the final 61 seconds. Wade said the team knows Cook’s can be trusted to knock down three-pointers in pressure-packed situations.
“Whenever we need a three-point shot, everyone has the green light to shoot,” Wade said. “But we like to go to Hannah.”
Curry heralded Utah senior forward Emily Potter, a member of the All-Pac 12 defensive team last year, as one of the best players Alabama will face all year. The team defended her heavily throughout the game, however, and she finished just 4-for-17 with five fouls.
“We tried to run three different post players at her, and then late in the game we went small and put Ashley Williams on her to be really active,” Curry said. “I thought we were able to force her out of her comfort zone.”
Free throw shooting had been an emphasis for Curry and her staff for the entire offseason, given the team’s ability to draw fouls due to its aggressive style of play. She said the team ends each day of practice with all players attempting to make 21 out of 28 free throws. If one doesn’t, she has to start over and retry until she does.
Ironically, the team finished exactly 21-of-28 from the line on Monday night, and Bolton and Cook’s conversions in the game’s waning moments proved the team’s drills have been effective.
“As a coach, you just want to see when your players’ hard work pays off,” Curry said. “They’ve worked hard on it and they’ve bought in and done the things we’ve asked them to do in practice and beyond.”
Curry said beating a quality Power Five opponent this early in the year gives the team plenty of momentum to build on and could be a difference-maker when the NCAA Tournament selection committee convenes in March.
“It’s definitely going to be one of those [wins] that in March I think we’re going to circle,” Curry said. “We were depleted there at times, and our rotations were thrown off, but our kids fought through some adversity with that. To get a win over a Power Five [opponent] is something our confidence should grow from.”
Alabama will host the Jacksonville Dolphins in Coleman Coliseum on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. CT. The Dolphins are 1-1, with a loss to North Carolina State and a win over Iona.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports