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Previewing UK Hoops’ Road Trip to Alabama

The reigning National Player of the Week to ready to follow up her two most recent impressive outings.

Coming off a massive home win over the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday, Rhyne Howard and the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (12-2) women’s basketball team are down in Tuscaloosa where they’ll tip-off against the Alabama Crimson Tide (10-5) late Thursday night at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network+.

Howard poured in a career-high of 37 points against the Vols in Kentucky’s last game and she is riding a streak of four consecutive games – and six out of her previous seven – with at least 26 points. The ‘Cats have kicked off the SEC schedule with a 1-1 record and head down south to take on a ‘Bama team that has dropped both conference games already.

So what do we know about Alabama women’s basketball? Follow along with me and we’ll find out together!

The Crimson Tide is coached by Kristy Curry, who is in her seventh season at the helm in Tuscaloosa. She boasts a team record of 108-101 and an overall record of 417-250. While Curry hasn’t had too much success at Alabama, she flaunts an impressive resumè.

During seven seasons as the head coach at Purdue (1999-2006), Curry coached the Boilermakers to a 179-51 record that included a National Championship appearance (2000-01), one Elite 8, two Sweet 16s, and NCAA postseason showings in all seven years. She later accepted the top job at Texas Tech where she stayed for another seven seasons before moving to Alabama. With the Red Raiders, Curry led her team to two NCAA selections and three WNIT appearances. During her time in the SEC, Curry has never coached her team to the NCAA Tournament, but Alabama has made the WNIT three consecutive seasons (2015-18).

A season ago, the Crimson Tide finished 14-17 with a 5-11 record in the SEC. Maci Morris and a freshmen version of Howard combined for 40 points during a 15-point win in 2018-19.

To open the 2019-20 season, Alabama had a rough going out of the gate, dropping its season-opener to Hampton, 67-63, before rattling off five straight wins. Those victories came mostly on the road and was highlighted by a win over Tulane (8-9). The month of December was filled with six home games for ‘Bama, which they closed with a 5-1 record. The lone loss came against Iowa State (9-4), 75-66, arguably the second-best team they’ve played all season. Their most impressive victories were a 20-point win over Colgate (10-4) and a 14-point win over North Carolina (11-3).

To open the new decade, Alabama stumbled to an 0-2 record in SEC play, but against two strong teams. 2020 began with a 71-60 loss to a solid LSU Tigers (11-3) squad before falling to the same top-5 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks that gave the ‘Cats nightmares just a week ago. ‘Bama actually played USC better than Kentucky did, losing by a final score of 93-78 as opposed to UK’s loss of 99-72.

But Kentucky is already a far different team compared to seven days ago. Instead of sulking after its first devastating loss of the season, they came back and responded at home with an important win over a ranked opponent. Now they head back on the road where they’ve played just three games all year. The environment won’t be as intimidating as it was in Columbia, but road atmospheres in the SEC always cause problems.

Powering Alabama against the ‘Cats is redshirt junior Jordan Lewis, a 5-foot-7 point guard who leads the Crimson Tide in both scoring (13.4 ppg) and assists (49) while coming in as the team’s third-leading rebounder (4.5 rpg). She ranks second all-time in the SEC in total assists by an active player and is No. 6 in steals. Just 38 points away from 1,000 for her career, Lewis graduated this past August, has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times, and is a team captain. Over the last five games, Lewis has been averaging nearly 16 points per game on 50 percent shooting. She’ll be the ‘Cats top priority Thursday night.

Alongside Lewis in the backcourt is the 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Megan Abrams. While she takes a backseat to Lewis in terms of production, the underclassman has still started all 15 games for ‘Bama, averaging 7.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per outing. She is also second on the team in assists with 31. Abrams isn’t exactly a shooting threat (39.1 percent from the field overall and 3-21 from three) but did post a career-high of 21 points in a big win over UNC earlier this year.

Making up the three-guard starting lineup for Coach Curry’s squad is the 6-foot redshirt senior Amber Richardson. After sitting out a season ago, Richardson has started all 15 games for Alabama this year but is just ninth in overall minutes. She averages a mere 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. The reason Richardson starts despite not being all that product is so they can bring a “super-sub” off the bench in senior Cierra Johnson.

The 5-foot-10 guard was named to the preseason All-SEC Second-Team and has been a viable force for ‘Bama as the sixth-woman. Johnson ranks third on the team in scoring at 9.1 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds and a team-high of 24 total steals. She is the leading force behind ‘Bama’s SEC-leading bench presence, as 45 percent of the Crimson Tide’s points come from the reserves. But Johnson isn’t alone coming off the pine. Sophomore guard De’Sha Benjamin is fourth on the team in scoring at 8.3 points per game despite not having started a game all season.

Making up the frontcourt are two 6-foot-3 forwards, juniors Jasmine Walker and Ariyah Copeland. The duo leads Alabama in rebounds, combining for over 12 boards per outing.

Walker is the team’s most dangerous scoring threat outside of Lewis. She can stretch the floor (shooting 37.5 percent on a team-high 72 attempts from three) and has a team-high three double-doubles this season. Copeland provides an inside force, connecting on nearly 54 percent of her looks – almost exclusively from inside the arc – the second-highest figure amongst her teammates.

The last two players we’ll talk about for the Crimson Tide both come off the bench and supply various skills. Senior Ashley Knight is the program’s all-time leading shot-blocker and currently leads the team with 27 swats this season. During her freshman campaign, she registered 90 rejections, a single-season record for the ‘Bama. While she’s only attempted 45 shots on the year, she’s converted on 30 of them for an impressive 66.7 shooting clip. She also holds the highest overall field goal percentage by an Alabama player across their career with a four-year average of 56.6 percent.

The final piece to Alabama’s puzzle is sophomore guard Brittany Davis, who averages 7.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. She earned SEC Player of the Week honors after dropping career-highs of 23 points and five rebounds against UNC in the middle of Dec.

Alabama isn’t a premier outside shooting team by any means. They account for most of their points coming from the charity stripe. The Crimson Ride rank in the top-15 in the nation in both free-throws attempted and made. They shoot over 70 percent from the free-throw line this season on 316 attempts.

While ‘Bama won’t turn the ball over that often on their own, they aren’t a team that’s going to be whipping passes back and forth across the court, especially agaisnt a tight Kentucky press. The Crimson Tide only average 11.5 helpers per game – second-worst in the SEC – and their assist/turnover ratio is putrid compared to the ‘Cats.

What Alabam does well is rebound on the defensive glass. They rank second in the league in that department, hauling in over 32 defensive boards per game. They’re a middling team in terms of field goal and three-point percentage but have the ability to force Kentucky into quick foul trouble by attacking the rim. It’ll be interesting to see if someone like Howard or Tatyana Wyatt picks up a couple of early fouls and how they respond to it.

While the Crimson Tide don’t pose as much of a threat as Kentucky’s previous two opponents, they are still a trap game of sorts. The ‘Cats are entering a road atmosphere against a team hungry for a win. They can’t be taken lightly, especially if foul trouble quickly becomes an issue. A big game against a top-10 ranked Texas A&M team looms next week for the ‘Cats.

The size inside of Alabama might cause for some frustrating missed rebounds, but all of the advantages point towards Kentucky. The press will give ‘Bama all sorts of issues and the Wildcats can easily outshoot them. If Howard decides she wants to drop in another 26 or more points, this one could be over early.

Tip-off is at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network+ later on Thursday night. Don’t miss it.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Recruiting reporter for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR