November 19, 2010 8:35:00 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Confident, aggressive, and dangerous.
It''s only three games into the 2010-11 season, but the University of Alabama women''s basketball team appears ready to deliver on its potential.
The Crimson Tide took an important step to making that case on a national level Wednesday, dismissing North Carolina State 95-84 before a crowd of 1,495 at Coleman Coliseum.
Tierney Jenkins had a team-high 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead five players in double figures. The 6-foot senior forward, who was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week on Nov. 15, said the Crimson Tide (3-0) have been practicing free and easy and in an up-tempo fashion since the preseason, so their effort against a program that is perennially ranked in the top 25 wasn''t a surprise.
"We have goals we have set as a team, and we felt today would be a really big game to kind of prove where we were," Jenkins said. "To beat them is a major step for our program in the right direction."
Alabama has won one and five games in the past two Southeastern Conference seasons. The addition of freshman forward Kaneisha Horn, the first McDonald''s All-American to sign with the program, has increased the anticipation about this season. The SEC coaches picked the Crimson Tide to finish eighth, while the media picked them ninth.
That''s a lot of teams to climb over if the team is to record its first winning record since 2001-02 and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998-99.
"(Making the NCAA tournament) is plastered in our minds," Jenkins said. "Every day that is how we think about it and how we''re preparing for the NCAA tournament. You can''t tell us we''re not going this year. That is just kind of our mind-set."
Jasmine Robinson (19 points, five rebounds), Ericka Russell (18 points, three assists, three steals), LaToya King (10 points), and Alicia Mitcham (10 points, seven rebounds) also made key contributions to help Alabama record its largest single-game showing since a 102-48 win against Savannah State on Dec. 2, 2006.
The Crimson Tide did their damage with a defense that pressured all over the court and an offense that clicked like it didn''t have a care in the world. Alabama players drove hard from each wing and took 3-pointers without hesitation. The production didn''t suffer when the starters left the game, either, as seven players logged at least 11 minutes and two others played eight and nine minutes, respectively.
"(The confidence) stated this summer working hard every day and being on our teammates and encouraging everybody," senior guard Ericka Russell said. "Everybody really believes and we are really confident."
Alabama scored 82 and 87 points in victories against Tennessee State and Central Arkansas to open the season. But the win against N.C. State was the program''s first against a team from one of the other five power conferences since a 66-37 victory against Washington State on Nov. 24, 2007. The team''s output marked the first time since the first three games of the 2004-05 season the program has scored 80 or more points in three straight victories.
Coach Wendell Hudson, who is in his third season, said the Crimson Tide bought into his philosophy in the offseason and continued to work hard in the preseason. He said the players are now "committed" not "compliant," and that has made a ton of difference.
"We are applying our philosophy on what we wanted to do since we took over this program," Hudson said. "We are playing in a fun way that people would like to play. ... If you play on the defensive end and you get in your range you can shoot the basketball."
The Crimson Tide led by as many as 28, 74-46, with 11 minutes, 35 seconds to go in the second half after a jump shot by senior Katie Hancock, of Tupelo. N.C. State capitalized on some sloppiness late by Alabama, but the lead never dipped below 10 points.
N.C. State (2-1), which returns three starters and nine letterwinners from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season, had a season-high 30 turnovers. The Wolfpack were picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll, and entered the game receiving votes in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches'' Poll.
"Everything we did was just the wrong thing," N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said. "We were sloppy on offense. We had way too many turnovers. We allowed their pressure to affect us. Defensively, we were a step late. It seemed like every time somebody had the ball we were a step late. It put us out of position.
"I''m really disappointed, especially in that first half, and the first few minutes of the second half. We didn''t show a lot of fight. We had some people that were not in this game ever. They didn''t have their heads in this game, and that''s something we''re going to have to figure out because with our team we have to have everybody clicking every night for us to get wins."
Harper said the Wolfpack knew the Crimson Tide wanted an up-tempo game. They weren''t able to control the tempo despite shooting 54.3 percent (19 of 35) in the second half. Alabama, which shot 50 percent (17 of 34) in the second half, shot 49.3 percent (37 of 75) for the game and had a 50-40 edge in points in the paint.
"It looked like they wanted this more than we did. I''m not accustomed to seeing that. It''s been a while since I''ve seen that and they know that. ... I don''t want to take anything away from Alabama. They played a really fantastic game tonight. We just weren''t competitive."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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