Emotions of final home game won't get in way of ultimate goal for NeNe Bolton

Emotions of final home game won't get in way of ultimate goal for NeNe Bolton

Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics.

Alabama's Quanetria "NeNe" Bolton has played in 120 basketball games over her four-year career. Thursday's contest against No. 19 Georgia will be her last in Coleman Coliseum, but don't expect too much sentiment from the 6-foot forward. 

"I don't really have any emotions right now, because I know we have a lot of basketball to play after that," Bolton said. "Just being able to go out with a win is big for all of the seniors, and that's pretty much what we're focusing on, just taking it game by game." 

That point is imperative all the time, said head coach Kristy Curry, but it's especially so in the midst of a three-game win streak that has brought the team back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. 

She said peeking at the pedigrees of past teams to sneak into the tournament has its merits, such as determining if the team does indeed have a chance to qualify. But once she has the answer, she has to refocus herself and her team on what's within their control. 

"We've put ourselves in a position to really finish the SEC schedule in a special way, and we just really have to seize the opportunity," Curry said. "...We know we have our hands full, but we're excited because it's about us right now. It's not about anybody but us, and we control what happens to us." 

A narrow win at Ole Miss provided a spark that ended a skid of six losses in seven games. The team's first win at Tennessee in program history and a home win against Auburn on Senior Day now have the Crimson Tide riding even higher.  

"I would say we are more upbeat, but I don't necessarily think we overlook things," sophomore guard Jordan Lewis said. "We still think every game is important; we just have found a rhythm with each other and I think that's played a big role." 

Curry said Bolton deserves a lot of the credit for the team's turnaround due to her unusually strong leadership for a post player. Bolton called the team together before the flight to Tennessee because practices had not been going well, and the team responded to her challenges.  

She also displays other qualities that earned her a spot in the "So You Want to Be a Coach" program, including basketball IQ, communication, work ethic, and the ability to unify diverse groups of people. 

"What NeNe does to anchor our defense and to talk and communicate [is invaluable]," Curry said. "She didn't get off to the greatest start this year, but she just continued to work at it. And I think she's had a big part in why our team is, as Jordan said earlier, finding its rhythm."  

Looking ahead to Thursday night, Curry lauded the Lady Bulldogs' "incredible" front line of forwards Caliya Robinson and Mackenzie Engram, but said that Alabama's post play matches up well with them. She also said Georgia excels in transition, so protecting the ball and getting into position on defense will also be focal points. 

Because the front lines match up well, Curry said the play of bench perimeter players, like guards Meo Knight, Coco Knight, and Alana da Silva, could decide the game. 

"Those kids are going to have to come in the game and impact the game in all categories, along with our three starting perimeters," Curry said. "That [includes] taking care of the basketball and who can be more aggressive and who can finish plays." 

Tipoff between the Crimson Tide (17-10 overall, 7-7 SEC) and Lady Bulldogs (22-5, 10-4) will be at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday night.

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