A blitzing fullcourt press turned the University at Albany women’s team into one of the most feared defensive teams in the America East Conference a year ago on the way to winning a school-record 10 conference games.
Now, head coach Trina Patterson wants to take another step up the power ladder.
UAlbany finished tied for fourth in the conference at 10-6 (13-18 overall), and the coaches picked the Great Danes to finish fourth once again. That’s not quite good enough for Patterson, or her confident players.
“I believed in my players all along last season, even after our difficult start,” said Patterson, whose Great Danes faced a brutal non-conference schedule, and won only one of their first 12 games in 2007-08.
“The key is that the kids believed in themselves. Sometimes, losing can give you character. We made some major changes last year, especially defensively, and the kids bought into them. We did some things that we never did before. Sometimes, you can lose your players when you lose so many games like we did at the start of last year. But our early-season record was not an indication of how good a team we had.
“Our season is 30 games long, and in the second third of the season, we did some things that turned us around,” said the America East Conference Coach of the Year. “At the end of the year, a lot of teams were afraid to play us.”
Patterson said that the Great Danes’ next goal is to move up to the top level of the conference.
“We want to move up to be the first- or second-best team in the league,” she said. “We have the talent to do that. You can put wings on a pig, but that doesn’t mean it will fly. With us, we definitely have the talent to improve.”
Junior point guard Britney McGee agrees.
“After that 1-11 start, we could have given up, but we believed in what coach Patterson was telling us,” McGee said. “Being picked fourth in this year’s coaches’ poll is nice, because it shows the other coaches have respect for us. We’re going to be small this year, but it’s not about size, it’s more about heart. I definitely believe we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.”
Patterson plans on using a very small starting lineup that includes three guards and two forwards. Her scheduled starting lineup that will face the California Golden Bears in the season opener Friday features 5-foot-9 sopohomore guard Janea Aiken,
5-6 McGee and 5-8 Charity Iromuanya in the backcourt, along with 6-1 freshman Tabitha Makopondo and 5-11 senior Tiffanie Johnson up front. McGee averaged 9.1 points and sank a team-best 46 three-pointers last year, while Aiken averaged 8.3 points. Iromuanya produced 6.7 ppg, and Johnson added 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds.
The Danes lost their top two inside players — and top two scorers, Kristin Higy (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Gia Sanders (9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) — to graduation.
“We’ll be small, but we won’t play small,” Patterson said. “I believe we have the best guard combination, from top to bottom, in the America East Conference. We have lots of speed.”
Returning forward Ashley Lindsey (6-1) and freshmen Kate Cronin, Delaney Cohan and Shelby Coon will be counted upon for scoring punch and rebounding up front, while senior Amira Ford and redshirt freshman Felicia Johnson will be the backup point guards. Freshman Adrienne Jones will be the team’s second option at shooting guard, while sophomore Kris
Clements will back up Iromuanya on the wing.
“Realistically, we lost 20 of the 61 points per game we scored last season,” said Patterson. “We also lost leadership. More importantly, we lost rebounding. Rebounding is a key factor that we need to have and improve on this year.
“Our goal is not to steal the ball when we press this year,” Patterson said. “We want to cause mistakes and make our opponents uncomfortable. Offensively, we will look to get layups and drive hard to the basket. If we can do all of that, we will be successful.”
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