All eyes on Ubiles in Siena-UAlbany rematch

Edwin Ubiles doesn’t want to watch this game from the sidelines. There will enough people — at least
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Edwin Ubiles doesn’t want to watch this game from the sidelines.

There will enough people — at least 12,000 — doing that job already.

There’s no question the Siena-UAlbany game will once again be a wildly popular draw tonight.

The only question that remains is whether the Saints’ 6-foot-7 senior small forward will be able to play.

Ubiles, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason first-team all-star, has been hampered by tendinitis in his right knee for 2 1⁄2 weeks and was not in uniform for Siena’s 74-61 loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.

The men’s game is scheduled for 7:30 at the Times Union Center and will follow a 5 p.m. game between the Siena and UAlbany women.

The Siena men (4-3) will start sophomore Owen Wignot if Ubiles — who did some light shooting at practice on Friday and continues to receive treatment two or three times a day — can’t play.

The fact that the game comes early in the season could play a part in the decision, Ubiles said.

“It was hard to sit on the bench the last game,” he said. “The minute I stepped on the floor, I wanted to say, ‘Coach, I want to suit up.’ It’s going to be very tempting to play, but at the same time, you’ve got to be smart about it.”

Ubiles sounded like he was going to play, though, when asked about the spirited rivalry, which has seen Siena win seven of eight since it was re-instituted.

The last four games, all won by the Saints, have been decided by a combined 20 points.

Ubiles scored 23 points in Siena’s 71-64 win last year.

“They’re going to be ready for us, and the key to this game is we’re going to have to bring as much energy to this game as they’re going to,” Ubiles said. “They’re going to come out really fired up to play this game. We have to be ready. I think we’re all looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun experience.”

As of 3:30 Friday afternoon, 11,750 tickets had been sold.

UAlbany head coach Will Brown said the Great Danes, who are 3-5 following an 81-65 loss at Florida Atlantic, have to prepare for the game as if Ubiles is going to play.

“I’m sure Fran [Siena head coach Fran McCaffery] wants to get off to a good start in the conference, and he might not want to take chance playing Ubiles in this game,” Brown said. “But that being said, we’re going to plan like he’s going to play. Fran’s starting five is so good, that there are not a lot of opportunities for his bench players to play.

“I’m very familiar with his bench players, and one of those kids will be eager to gobble up those minutes — [Kyle] Downey, Wignot or whomever. It’s an opportunity for one of their kids to step up in the bright lights and play in front of 12,000-13,000 people. Their bench is good, but they don’t need it. Still, we’d be foolish to plan for him not playing.”

“The key thing is for him to get healthy,” Siena point guard Ronald Moore said.

The rivalry is enhanced by the fact that several of the players from both schools are friendly off the court.

The Great Danes’ Will Harris, Tim Ambrose and Mike Johnson have played summer ball with Siena, and last year several Saints were in courtside seats for a UAlb­any game.


It also helps that the games have been close, even during years, like 2008, when it appears that one team has a decided edge in talent.

“Even if we get up big, they us­ually rally back,” Moore said. “It always comes down to the end. We know we’re going to get the best of them, and they’re definitely going to get the best of us. Any time you go against friends, it’s compet­itive.”

“If one team was running away with it, then I don’t think it would have quite the same interest level,” McCaffery said. “The four years I’ve been in it, it’s come down to the last minute.”

High expectations for Siena have perhaps been alleviated early in the season by losses to Temple, St. John’s and Georgia Tech.

Still, the Saints were almost unanimously picked to win the MAAC, which begins for Siena on Monday with a game at Iona.

“Siena is a very good team,” Brown said. “I’m not saying we have to play perfect to win, but we have to play well to win this game. We’re not hiding that fact. If we play average, we’re not going to win this game. Siena can play an average game and still win.”

WOMEN PLAY FIRST

Siena women’s head coach Gina Castelli is still stuck on 299 career wins after six games, most recently a 76-70 overtime loss to Binghamton in which the Saints came back from an eight-point deficit with 2:16 left in regulation, tied it on two free throws by Cristina Centeno with a second left, scored the first four points of OT and still lost.

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