Women’s basketball: UAlbany seniors going for sweep against Siena

University at Albany junior guard Imani Tate was adamant about her primary motivation heading into t

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University at Albany junior guard Imani Tate was adamant about her primary motivation heading into today’s women’s basketball version of the Albany Cup.

“We don’t want to be the first team to lose. We take huge pride in this,” she said, referring to the Great Danes’ five-game winning streak in the series with crosstown rival Siena.

That streak coincides with head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s arrival on the UAlbany campus for the start of the 2010-11 season.

UAlbany (6-2), the four-time defending America East Conference champion, should once again be a huge favorite in the game, which tips off at 5 p.m. at Times Union Center. The Great Danes won last year’s matchup 76-57, and they’ve triumphed by an average of 18 points over the last five seasons. Overall, Siena holds a 10-8 record in the series. The teams are deadlocked at 6-6 since UAlbany upgraded to Division I.

“[Today’s game] is a big deal,” added UAlbany senior point guard Erin Coughlin. “I think it’s a fun opportunity for us. It’s the last time that Shereesha [Richards] and I will play a game at the Times Union Center. I think our schedule, playing games against teams like Tennessee and Providence, has prepared us well.”

Abrahamson-Henderson put her team through a grueling practice session Friday in preparation for the game, and she emphasized that Siena will be trying to do anything it can to disrupt the Great Danes.

“They have a lot more new faces, and they are more athletic this year,” she said of the Saints. “Their personnel is different. Most of the teams we’ve played try to jack up 3-pointers, but Siena is not like that. They play differently than a lot of the teams we’ve played so far.”

Richards, the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,850 points, is also 11th on the all-time America East Conference scoring list. This season, the 6-foot-1 senior is averaging 22.8 points and 7.0 rebounds. She has been named to the Naismith Early Season 50 Watch List for the women’s college player of the year.

Tate, a 5-8 guard, provides the Great Danes with a solid 1-2 scoring punch. She produces 19.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Tiana-Jo Carter, a 6-2 sophomore, is the third UAlbany player in double digits at 11.7. She also averages 8.0 rebounds per game.

Siena (4-5), is riding a four-game winning streak. The Saints are averaging 41.8 rebounds per game. They also are limiting their opponents to just a .354 shooting percentage.

Siena’s key players include Margot Hetzke (8.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg), a 5-11 sophomore forward; Kollyns Scarbrough (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), a 5-10 sophomore guard; and Jackie Benitez (7.9 ppg), a 5-10 freshman guard.

“Rivalry games are very special,” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said. “We are lucky to have a crosstown rivalry. It’s great for our fans.”

Hetzke, last year’s MAAC Rookie of the Year, is looking forward to the game.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “Not everyone has two Division I programs in the same city. This is a great opportunity for us.”

“I’m excited about this game, because it’s great for the community,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “There is a lot of history involved. Every year, we play the game for our seniors.”

Hetzke said the Saints have a chance to win if they control the tempo and limit the scoring opportunities for Richards and Tate.

Jaques said her team is ready for the challenge and is finally starting to come around after a slow start.

“We had a little bit of a tough start, but it’s evened out,” she said. “We’re not quite where I want to be, but we’re a young team that is playing a lot better now.”

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