By (James Ogletree)

Alabama forward Ashley Knight had a step on the Texas A&M player defending her, and Knight’s teammate, guard Shaquera Wade, noticed. She dished the ball to Knight, who converted the layup.

They were Knight’s first two points of the game, and didn’t do much to close an 18-point deficit to the 16th-ranked Aggies, who won the game 73-54.

Nonetheless, Alabama forward Ashley Williams, dressed in gray sweats, sprang to her feet, rewarding Knight with enthusiastic applause and a cheer of “Niiiice!”

Williams, the team’s unquestioned leader, missed her first game of the season as she recovers from a collision with a Mississippi State player on Sunday. Head coach Kristy Curry said the team failed to replace Williams’ production as well as expected, but the most prominent loss was her leadership.

“She leads by her energy and her effort and she also is a really vocal leader for us,” Curry said. “We were completely mute; I was disappointed. I’ve asked these kids the past few days to step up and be uncomfortable a little bit and be more vocal… When somebody’s down, you gotta step up more than that.”

Midway through the third quarter, as the Aggies used a 13-0 run to pad the lead they held for all but 16 seconds of the game, the Coleman Coliseum crowd fell as quiet as it has been all season. Sporadic clapping and half-hearted encouragement from the fans were the only things competing with the players’ calls to each other and their squeaky shoes.

Alabama’s offense struggled for most of the game, missing its first 10 shots and finishing 20-for-58 (34.5 percent). Senior guard Hannah Cook, who had scored a career-high 25 points four days prior, came up with just four points and one rebound against the Aggies.

“We concentrated on Cook,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said. “We didn’t give her as many good looks as she wanted, and she just missed some shots that she normally hits.”

The tough outing by the offense overshadowed a career night from sophomore guard Jordan Lewis, who led the team with 17 points and seven rebounds and set a new career high with five three-pointers made on eight attempts. The rest of the team shot 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.

“I just keep shooting the ball like I haven’t fulfilled my role yet on the team,” Lewis said. “Even though we’ve been winning, we haven’t been winning clean and disciplined. So I feel like if you just keep shooting, you’ll eventually [get there].”

Despite the loss, Blair said Alabama is talented enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament; it just has to show up and win the games it’s supposed to win. With Williams’ return still nebulous, Curry said it’s imperative that the rest of her players step farther outside their comfort zones.

“Any win in the SEC is just as important and just as hard,” Curry said. “It doesn’t matter; it’s the SEC. It’s not about who we’re playing. When we’re how we need to be, we feel like we can beat anybody in this league. When we become comfortable, we stop improving. So I can promise you: we won’t be comfortable.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports