Women's Basketball Scouting Report: Alabama
Vanderbilt – more specifically, its offense – has one more game in which it might be able to get by with a less-than-solid performance. The Commodores didn't slip on the banana peel as they did against Mississippi State, but their 56-50 win over Arkansas was hardly a Rembrandt or anything that would be worth framing in a museum. Against Alabama, VU could dig out a similarly ugly win, but when March rolls around, head coach Melanie Balcomb knows that ragged offensive performances simply won't make the grade. The biggest need for Vanderbilt in this game is to get a win, no matter how (not) pretty. The second priority – and it's a close second – is to learn the kinds of lessons that can make this team's offense much more effective when March arrives.
The Crimson Tide have never really been able to establish a foothold this season. Coach Kristy Curry has seen her team sputter in non-conference competition (7-6, with the wins coming mostly against smaller schools) and in SEC play (5-8). The Tide own only one eye-popping win (at Kentucky on Jan. 23), and their two-game run against Kentucky and (on Jan. 26) Georgia represents the only time this season that Alabama has been able to play at a high level on back-to-back occasions. Moreover, only one of Alabama's eight SEC losses has been decided by a single-digit margin. The Tide's offense frequently drowns against SEC competition. Alabama has failed to reach 60 points in six of its eight league losses.
Vanderbilt's closing stretch of Florida and Kentucky will be tough, and it had the ability to smother Mississippi State's offense (but failed); yet, as was the case in the Arkansas game, Vanderbilt can play a less-than-great offensive game and still get away with it if its defense is able to pounce. Alabama's offense just isn't threatening; VU will win this game as long as it doesn't give away possessions or enable the Crimson Tide to get easy baskets (not to mention foul shots).
Forward – Nikki Hegstetter – Sophomore, 6-2; 2013-14: 5.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game
There are several players on the Alabama roster who average something in the area of four to six points and two to five rebounds per game. Hegstetter, as a player who averages almost 26 minutes per game, has to produce at a higher level in order for the Crimson Tide to thrive.
Forward – Ashley Williams – Freshman, 6-0; 2013-14: 12.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg
Williams is the one high-output frontcourt player on the Tide. She's the team's best rebounder, and her 51.8-percent shooting number is also the best on the roster. What's even more striking about Williams' shooting efficiency is that no other Bama starter converts as much as 40 percent of field goal attempts. Williams is by far the most efficient offensive player on the team; she's not the leading scorer because she's not as much of a volume shooter.
Guard – Sharin Rivers – Junior, 5-3; 2013-14: 4.4 ppg, 1.7 assists per game
Rivers has replaced Khadijah Carter in Alabama's starting lineup. As you'll see when you continue to go through this roster, there are only three players who carry a considerable share of the workload for this team. That's a recipe for frustration in any women's college basketball conference, but the SEC is particularly unforgiving of a lack of quality depth.
Guard – Daisha Simmons – Junior, 5-10; 2013-14: 13.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.8 steals per game
Simmons is the most complete player Alabama has to offer. A capable scorer, the junior is also the team's second-best rebounder despite a relative lack of size. She's the team's leading assist giver, and she also leads the Crimson Tide in steals. No one is involved in more facets of gameday competition than Simmons; her impact is pervasive, and it makes Alabama at least somewhat competitive in a rugged conference.
Guard – Shafontaye Myers – Senior, 5-8; 2013-14: 14.2 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.2 steals per game
Myers is the leading scorer on this team because she puts up more shots than Williams. She's the team's best three-point shooter at 40.4 percent. The only other player on the team who averages at least 20 minutes and shoots a remotely comparable percentage from long range is Rivers, at 34.9 percent, but Rivers doesn't attempt nearly as many shots. The main concern for Vanderbilt is to ensure that Myers doesn't go on a tear and hit something like 5-of-7 threes en route to an efficient 23-point performance (with twos and foul shots added).
Forward Briana Hutchen is the Crimson Tide's most productive reserve... and she averages a modest 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Four other players – the aforementioned Carter, Brittany Jack (frontcourt), Oceana Hamilton (frontcourt), and Emily Davis – don't give Alabama the quality depth it needs in order to be an upper-tier SEC team.
Keys to the Game
1) Counter Simmons when playing offense. Simmons is a strong defender. This might seem overly repetitive, but when the same game key emerges, it's foolish to try to pretend that a competition's focal point lies elsewhere: Vanderbilt can't throw away possessions, especially in the form of live-ball turnovers (as opposed to dead-ball ones) that lead to easy transition baskets for the Crimson Tide. There's no better potential source of transition baskets for Alabama than Simmons. Minimizing her defensive impact will be quite important for VU.
2) Contain Williams when playing defense and protecting the defensive glass. Alabama's lack of depth makes the Tide's three best players stand out that much more. Simmons is the most important defensive player, and Williams is this team's most important offensive player, even though Myers shoots threes well and scores a little more often. Williams is such a force on the glass that Vanderbilt's young post players will not have an easy time against her. As long as Williams doesn't win her low-post matchup by a substantial margin, Vanderbilt will probably be okay in this game. The Commodores know that Alabama doesn't have many difference-making players; solving Williams will undercut one of the Tide's few main threats.
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