With about eight seconds left in the second quarter of Alabama’s first-round NCAA Women’s Tournament game, Jordan Lewis slipped around a North Carolina defender and got to the right wing.
She was wide open.
A Tar Heel assistant bolted out of her chair, right in front of Lewis, and frantically pleaded for someone to come out to defend the Crimson Tide senior.
Her pleas went unanswered, and the exasperated UNC coach turned back toward her seat just as Jordan let her 3-point attempt fly.
She didn’t have to see it. She already knew. The shot was good.
Lewis was the talk of the NCAA tourney Monday. She scored 32 points with 11 rebounds and eight assists in an 80-71 victory.
The moment was a long time coming for Lewis. And Alabama.
“Playing on the big stage is something we’ve wanted to do all year and ever since I’ve been playing college basketball,” Lewis said. “The moment was there and I did whatever I could to help my team.”
The first-round win ended a 21-year NCAA Tournament drought for the Crimson Tide. The last time Alabama appeared and won in the Big Dance was 1999, about a year after Lewis was born.
To advance, No. 7 seed Alabama has to get past No. 2 seed Maryland on Wednesday. Tipoff is noon on ESPN2.
“We don’t want it to stop,” Lewis said.
Whatever happens against Maryland, Lewis plans on playing her best game – she graded her performance against North Carolina a B. Yes, she was two assists shy of a triple-double, but it’s the two missed free throws that gnaw at her.
It’s not like she’s one of those athletes that have to be perfect. The fact is Lewis doesn’t want to waste the opportunity. She knows firsthand how it feels to lose that.
Lewis missed almost all of the 2018-19 season with a broken wrist. She knew something was wrong right away during a game against Miami, but she was playing in her home state, and was full of adrenaline. So she continued to play (34 minutes total) and scored 13 points in the loss.
It wasn’t until afterward that she discovered her wrist was broken and had to miss the remainder of the season.
It gave Lewis some perspective.
“You can never take a moment for granted. You can’t take a day off because you never know when it’s going to be taken away from you,” she said.
The season, at least part of it, was taken away again the following year, except it had nothing to do with injury. Alabama’s postseason hopes were dashed on March 11 with the announcement of the cancelation of the men’s and women’s tournaments due to COVID-19. That was about a week before the NCAA women’s bracket was scheduled for release.
This season has been nonstop for Lewis, who moved up to sixth on the UA career scoring list (1,573) and fourth in assists (509). Actually, it’s been nonstop since she got to Tuscaloosa. Her list of accolades reads like a novel, and that’s just her on-the-court accomplishments.
Lewis, the 2020 SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year, graduated with a marketing degree in three years, and will receive her MBA in May.
“My parents never let me be average,” Lewis said. “They never let me be just good on the court or good in the classroom. The expectations were set high from a young age.”
Lewis can add to her career numbers on Wednesday against Maryland. She’s proven she can score from 3-point range, off the dribble and from mid-range. She can find open teammates for shots and can fight for rebounds. She can do it all. That’s not the best aspect of her game, though. At least not according to her.
“The best part of my game is motivating my teammates and bringing them to a level to where they didn’t think they could be,” she said. “Being that leader and being that voice on the team is something I’ve strived to be this year.”