ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS!0) – With a dominant 84-39 home victory over Hartford on Senior Day, the UAlbany women’s basketball team is a 2015-16 America East regular season co-champion, picking up a share of the title for the fourth straight year.
UAlbany (24-4, 15-1 AE) used a decisive 29-7 second quarter to sprint past Hartford (11-18, 7-9 AE) for the team’s third straight win. The Great Danes share the America East regular season title with Maine, which also finished 15-1 in league play.
“We knew Hartford was going to play us hard, and I thought our team came out really focused,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “Our defense catapulted us into good offense.”
UAlbany will find out tonight if it earned the 1-seed in the upcoming America East Tournament. Between UAlbany and Maine, the team with the higher RPI after today’s games will have the 1-seed; going into Sunday, UAlbany had a RPI of 53 while Maine had an RPI of 69.
After the game, UAlbany celebrated the careers of Shereesha Richards and Erin Coughlin for Senior Day. The two make up a senior class that has won 103 victories, the winningest class in UAlbany women’s basketball history.
“We got the win, and that is all that matters,” said Richards. “When I was in foul trouble, everybody else stepped up.”
“We don’t think of it as every game could be our last, we just take it one game at a time,” said Coughlin.
In the game, UAlbany shot 57.6% from the field while Hartford was held to 28.6% shooting. UAlbany stole the ball 16 times off 27 Hartford turnovers and had four players in double-digit scoring.
Imani Tate had a career-day for UAlbany, shooting 13-for-19 for 28 points, eight steals, six rebounds and four assists. Richards hit eight out of 11 field goals for 21 points and four boards. Tiana-Jo Carter nearly earned a double-double, going 6-8 from the field for 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks while Zakiya Saunders tallied 13 points, seven assists and four steals.
For Hartford, Darby Lee earned a team-high 17 points off 5-7 from the floor and 7-9 on the charity stripe. No other player score more than five points for the Hawks.
Both sides began with a couple of turnovers and missed shots in the opening minutes against the other team’s zone defense. Five minutes in, the teams were deadlocked at 2-2.
Richards reached for the ball on a UAlbany halfcourt trap and forced a steal. Tate grabbed the ball, raced down and hit the lay up. After a Deanna Mayza heave for a three, UAlbany put together a 6-0 run led by two Richards layups for a 10-5 lead.
Tate continued her aggressive play, countering points in the paint from Lee, with another steal and score on a hop-step floater, then, at the end of the quarter, had a jumping putback from underneath the basket at the buzzer to give UAlbany a 16-11 lead after one.
After an exchange of baskets, Tate hit three shots in a row, including rebounding a long miss and putting it back from the paint. Tate then passes to Richards in the paint for the stutter step and score to complete the 8-0 run. Jalay Knowles broke the run, then a Richards lay up followed by another steal and score from Tate made it 30-15.
The press continued to lead to offense for UAlbany as the Great Danes continued the attack with points in the paint. A block and couple of steals by Saunders, plus a steal and fast break score by Tate, led to UAlbany putting together a 15-0 sprint. Hartford hit a lay up at the end of the quarter to put the score at UAlbany 45, Hartford 18 at the half.
UAlbany kept up its attack on the paint to begin the 3rd, with Richards hitting the first basket and two free throws. Janelle Harrison hit free throws to get some points back. UAlbany kept heading to the line with Carter hitting two after pulling down an offensive board, then Saunders hitting two after a technical foul on Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti. The Great Danes led 55-21 with 5:46 left in the 3rd.
The free throw shooting continued as both sides committed a number of fouls. UAlbany maintained a strong advantage despite Richards and Heather Forster getting to four fouls each, leading 65-32 after three.
Carter led the way at the start of the fourth, scoring two layups and knocking away a Janelle Harrison lay up to begin. Her second lay up sparked another run, fueled by two Saunders jumpers and a pair of Tate steals, for a 10-2 spurt to put UAlbany up 77-36 with 5:28 left.
In the later stages of the game, each Richards and Coughlin came off to standing ovations from the crowd of 1,647. Late points by Carter and Coughlin led UAlbany to the 84-39 win.
UAlbany’s next game will be in Binghamton for the first round of the America East Tournament.