STORRS, Conn. – Playing in their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, the University at Albany faced top overall seed Connecticut in the first round. Last season, the Great Danes finally broke through, upsetting fifth-seed Florida in the first round before falling to fourth-seed Syracuse in the second. Saturday, the Great Danes fell to the Huskies by a score of 116-55, bringing UAlbany’s 2016-17 season to a close.
“There are always things as a coach that you think,” said head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “Maybe we could have played more zone in the second half. Maybe we could have not tried to push tempo on offense. Again, Connecticut is just a really good team so at the end of the day I am glad we had the opportunity to play.”
UAlbany entered the game having won 12 of its last 13, culminating in its sixth consecutive America East title and NCAA berth. Connecticut had won the last four national championships, and had won their last 107 games.
Connecticut controlled the opening tip and drew an early foul on a lay-up attempt underneath the basket. Gabby Williams converted both free throws to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead. After a 7-0 by Connecticut, redshirt-junior Jessica Féquière scored UAlbany’s first points with a three pointer from the right corner.
Leading 9-5, Connecticut drew another foul under the basket, and converted one of two free throws. Junior Tiana-Jo Carter scored a lay-up on an assist from senior Imani Tate to cut the Huskies’ lead to three. At the first quarter media timeout, Connecticut led 18-9.
Hixson hit a three immediately after the timeout to cut the lead to six. Connecticut scored the next six points. At the end of the first quarter, Connecticut led 37-18. Two Huskies, Napheesa Collier and Kia Nurse, had scored in double figures, and Williams was right on the cusp with nine points.
Connecticut began the second quarter on a 9-0 run before Tate scored four consecutive points, breaking into double digits for the game. The Great Danes ultimately followed Connecticut’s 9-0 run with a 6-0 run of their own.
After the second quarter media timeout, the teams traded points for a handful of possessions. During this stretch, Féquière broke into double-digit scoring for the game. After the second quarter, Connecticut led 58-32. Where the Huskies led by 19 after the first, they outscored UAlbany by just seven in the second quarter.
Féquière led UAlbany with 13 points, and Tate had 10. Carter led with four rebounds, and Trpcic led with three assists. UAlbany led Connecticut 6-4 in bench points, while the Huskies held advantages of 30-14 in points in the paint, 14-3 in points off of turnovers, 12-6 in second chance points, and 12-3 in fast break points.
“We are here so why not play hard for 40 minutes,” said Féquière. “We just talked to each other, one possession at a time, one step at a time. It was always one at a time and never look at the score.”
Connecticut hit a three-pointer nine seconds into the second half. The’ Huskies opening 9-0 run took just over a minute of game time. By the mid-way point in the third, Connecticut had outscored UAlbany 17-5, and led 75-37 for the game. At the end of the quarter, Connecticut led 83-44. Tate had scored seven of UAlbany’s 12 points in the quarter. All seven of Tate’s points came from the free-throw line in the final 4:30 of the quarter.
“I have said about Connecticut for years that what separates them from other teams isn’t just how hard they play,” said Coach Mac, “but how well they pass and catch. They do it better than any other team in the country.”
Féquière ended her personal scoring drought with a three early in the fourth. Connecticut hit the 100-point barrier with just over five minutes remaining in the game, after which the Huskies emptied their bench.
“We let them get a lot more shots in the second half,” said Tate. They were getting the shots they wanted and they were making them.”
Coach Mac emptied her bench with 23.3 seconds remaining, trailing 116-55, which would prove to be the final score. Tate ends her career as one of the most prolific players in program history, ranking second all-time in program history in career points with 1,762. Also graduating are seniors Cassandra Edwards, Bailey Hixson, and Aubrey Hernandez, who led a class that compiled a four-year record of 101-32.
“I think it is just a great experience to play in the postseason,” said Tate. “Not many teams make it to the NCAA tournament, and to make it here four years in a row is a great accomplishment.”
Tate led UAlbany with 19 points, followed by Féquière with 16. Tate also led with seven rebounds, and Tate, Trpcic, and Hixson led with three assists apiece. Five Huskies scored in double-figures, with three scoring 20 or more.
Connecticut led the game in all categories: 52-18 in points in the paint, 25-5 in points off of turnovers, 16-13 in second chance points, 20-3 in fast break points, and 27-14 in bench points.
The Great Danes season is now over, after a 21-12 record and sixth straight America East title. They will regroup during the offseason and begin next season in search of a seventh-straight title.