NCAA Women’s Tournament: Craig must have big presence for Danes

Not only is 6-foot-8 Megan Craig the tallest player in University at Albany women’s basketball histo

Megan Craig rarely sees eye-to-eye with anybody, whether it’s on the court or off.

Not only is the 6-foot-8 Craig the tallest player in University at Albany women’s basketball history, but this freshman from Whangarei, New Zealand, has also battled culture shock all season long with new friends, a new diet and a different style of play.

Craig, who has averaged only 10 minutes a game and started just once, will play a major role when the 14th-seeded Great Danes take on third-seeded and defending national champion Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. at College Station, Texas.

It will be the Great Danes’ first appearance in the tournament, and Craig’s second start of the year.

“Finally, I will be playing against somebody who is almost my size,” said Craig. “Back in New Zealand, I never played anybody taller than 6-3. Even the players in our league haven’t been that tall, for the most part. I’ll finally be able to almost look their center [6-5 Kelsey Bone] in the eye. Their post player is physical, and I’m going to have to play that way myself. Julie [Forster] and I will work together to get the rebounds and play hard against their bigger post players.”

Craig usually is inserted into the game for five to eight minutes at a time in each half. Although she averages 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in limited playing time, she stepped up her game during the final few contests of the season. She scored 19 points in the regular-season finale against Binghamton, and added nine points and five rebounds in 16 minutes against Vermont in the opening round of the America East Conference tournament.

Craig also was a game-changer in the Great Danes’ 69-61 win over UMBC in the conference tourn­ament championship game as she scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in just 13 minutes, when the Great Danes pulled away from the Retrievers to win their first conference tournament title.

“I need to play the way I did against Binghamton in our last game at home, and the way I played in those two conference tourn­ament games. I’d like to combine those games,” she said. “I’m going to go back and watch the tapes and pick out what I did right in those games. I’m very excited to be playing in the NCAA tournament and to get a chance to start.”

UAlbany second-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said Craig’s presence in the lineup will be crucial for the 23-9 Great Danes to have any chance against the 22-10 Aggies, who are ranked 22nd in the country by The Associated Press.

“They [the Aggies] are taller and more athletic. They are a little stronger than us. We started a big lineup against Charlotte earlier in the year. I can’t just start four guards with Julie against this team. They are just too big.

“I think, definitely, that defense will be the key for [Megan]. She has to play physical and grab rebounds for us. They’ve never seen a person like Megan before. She doesn’t get into foul trouble, because we’ve worked on keeping her hands high and not moving into the offensive player. I think she will be a neut­ralizer in the post. She will help neutralize Kelsey Bone.”

Craig’s basketball game, and the rest of her life, has been in tran­sition this year in her first time away from home.

“The game is different here,” she said. “Back home, we played four 15-minute quarters and not halves. And the atmosphere here is completely different. We were lucky to get 300 people to watch any of our games, even when I was playing for the national team. But I just love this atmosphere. When we had almost 2,500 people here the other night in the championship game, I was just soaking it all up. It was very exciting.”

Craig also had to get tougher mentally and physically when she started playing American basketball.

“The style of play over here is much more physical and skilled. The teams are much faster and more precise with their plays,” she said. “In New Zealand, the players I was up against weren’t that fast or coordinated. I was fairly physical before, but I’ve had to learn to be much more so over here.

“I feel like I was just thrown into everything when I came over here,” she said.

Even her everyday habits, like eating, had to change dramatically.

“Everything is fried here,” she said. “Back home, we ate a lot of fresh produce. I ate a lot of kiwi and other fruit. If I wanted to eat something, I could pick it right off a tree from an orchard on my way back home. We don’t have that kind of access to the food here. You have to go out and buy everything at the market.”

Craig is also getting accustomed to all of the media exposure she is now getting.

“We didn’t have any media coverage back home. The first time someone asked me to be interviewed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “But I’m enjoying that part of it. It’s a lot of fun.”

Categories: College Sports

Leave a Reply