VESTAL, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The 1-seed UAlbany women’s basketball team took care of business in the America East Tournament quarterfinals with a 95-43 victory over 8-seed Vermont to advance to the semifinal round tomorrow at 4:15 p.m.
Three players for UAlbany (25-4) scored at least 20 points as the Great Danes never trailed after taking the lead in the first minute against Vermont (9-21).
“I thought we came out really strong and focused,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “We really want to concentrate on defense all the time. We knew they were a really good three-point shooting team; they took a lot of threes, and we were fortunate that they didn’t make them, so we really wanted to guard them more in the press.”
The four-time defending America East champion UAlbany earns its 12th consecutive victory in the league tournament. UAlbany will take on the victor of 4-seed vs. 5-seed Binghamton in the semifinal round.
UAlbany’s 54-point first half is the second-largest in the program’s DI history (56 vs. Vermont) and the third-biggest in America East Tournament history.
95 points marks the highest amount in the Division I era for UAlbany. The team’s previous high of points in the DI era was 94 in a 45-point victory at Vermont on January 9th, 2014.
Shereesha Richards scored 32 points in 24 minutes of play, going 12-for-17 from the floor and 7-for-9 from the free throw line, adding six rebounds. Richards moved into fourth in America East history in scoring with 2,339 points in her career.
“It is always great when everyone is hitting shots, and we just keep pushing,” said Richards. “It is fun when the defense is creating offense and you are making shots and getting stops.
As a team, UAlbany had 18 steals to Vermont’s two and shot 55.6% from the field, holding its opponent to 28.6%. No Vermont player earned double-digit scoring in the game.
Imani Tate tallied up 21 points, seven assists, five steals and five rebounds. Zakiya Saunders finished with 20 points off 8-for-12 shooting, five assists and five steals while Bailey Hixson shot a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc for nine points.
UAlbany’s zone defense forced pressure on Vermont, leading to a couple of steals. The other way, Richards put up mid-range jumpers, hitting three of her first four shots plus two free throws for an early 10-2 advantage.
UAlbany continued to force steals as Vermont tried to force action under the basket. Saunders led the next charge on offense from 12-foot jumpers on the elbow as at 12-6, UAlbany went the final 4:07 with a 12-0 run, with Saunders, Richards and Tate all hitting multiple field goals, to lead 24-6 after one-quarter.
The Purple and Gold continued that run into the second quarter, with Saunders and Richards adding baskets to complete the run at 16-0. Following a Candice Wright putback jumper, Tiana-Jo Carter led a 6-0 sprint with two baskets to build UAlbany’s advantage to 34-8 with 7:23 left in the 2nd.
Kylie Atwood stopped UAlbany’s run with a wing three, then UAlbany began another. After two Tate free throws, Richards continued the attack with a jumper, two free throws and a hand-off three at the top of the arc.
Continuing the half court traps and pressure defense, Saunders hit a couple more jumpers to finish another UAlbany run, this one 8-0. A last minute Vermont basket made it 54-18 UAlbany at the half.
A Richards stutter step jumper and four free throws from Saunders after fast break attacks built the UAlbany lead to 42 three minutes into the 3rd.
The two teams exchanged some points as UAlbany layups were countered by Kylie Butler free throws. UAlbany built the lead to over 50 in the next three minutes 13-2 streak, powered by seven Richards points. A couple of late points by Vermont made it 78-29 after three.
With the reserves primarily playing in the fourth quarter, the Great Danes held Vermont to one field goal in the opening six minutes. Three-pointers from Hixson and free throws from Heather Forster led to a quarter-opening 14-5 run as UAlbany led 92-34 with just under four minutes left.
Butler added some late points for Vermont. Cassandra Edwards hit a late basket for the eventual 95-43 final score in favor of UAlbany.