University at Albany head women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson faces a dilemma, but it’s one she will have plenty of time to rectify.
When Abrahamson-Henderson showed off her ring finger after Friday’s America East Conference Tournament championship game, she pointed out that she was wearing last year’s championship ring, with four title logos on it.
“I always wear the previous year’s championship ring, but I don’t think I will be able wear a ring next year. I think it will be too big to wear with five championships on it,” she said.
Despite a crazy finish, Abrahamson-Henderson’s Great Danes won a league-record fifth straight AE championship with a 59-58 victory over Maine at SEFCU Arena. UAlbany (27-4), stretched its tournament winning streak to 14 games, tying Maine, which won 14 in a row from 1995-98. In the history of women’s college basketball, only 15 programs have won their respective conference tournament five straight times.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Shereesha Richards, a key figure in four of those
UAlbany championships, poured in 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the way. Junior Imani Tate, who joined Richards on the all-tournament team, chipped in with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. All-tournament representative Sigi Koizar scored 15 to pace Maine (26-9), which shared the regular-season championship with the Great Danes.
Despite the fact that Richards was the focus of Maine’s defense, the 6-foot-1 senior from Rae Town, Jamaica, put the Great Danes on her back with 21 second-half points.
“I don’t want her to ever leave,” said the
UAlbany head coach of her top player. “She’s the best player ever to play here. I knew Shereesha would lead us to a win. Look what she did today with 31 points. She’s our go-to player. I don’t know if we will ever see a player like Shereesha ever again.”
Richards, who is the top scorer in UAlbany history, male or female, moved into third place on the all-time America East Conference scoring list with 2,403 points, just two points behind 1991 Maine graduate Rachel Bouchard for second place. She is currently the sixth-leading active scorer in Division I.
“I didn’t want Shereesha going out without another title,” said Abrahamson-Henderson.
Richards said she didn’t notice anything different about Maine’s defense, which held her to only eight points in a 65-53 loss at Maine Feb. 12.
“I didn’t notice being triple- or double-teamed,” she said. “It’s funny. I was just trying to get open. I get told all the time to score more, and the same thing happened today. Coach told me to score more at halftime.”
Maine led most of the way, but the Great Danes rallied in the second half behind Richards and Tate to set up an exciting finish.
Richards made a pair of foul shots with 1:52 left to give the Great Danes a 57-52 lead, but Maine’s Loren Bodine nailed a 3-pointer to cut the Black Bears’ deficit to 57-55. Richards then converted a driving layup to extend the Danes’ lead back to 59-55, but Koizar’s 3-pointer sliced the margin back to a point.
After Tate missed a jumper with 22 seconds remaining, Koizar drove the lane for what could have been the go-ahead basket, but her scoop shot missed.
With 2.6 seconds left in the game, Cassandra Edwards was fouled before the Great Danes could inbound the ball. That foul was called an intentional foul. Edwards missed both free throws, but the Great Danes still had possession because of the intentional foul. But on the inbounds play, Richards fell — she appeared to be tripped — and the ball rolled all the way to the other side of the court, giving Maine one last chance to win the game.
Sophie Weckstrom inbounded the ball to Mikaela Gustafsson, whose desperation shot at the buzzer failed to hit the rim.
“I feel a sense of relief,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’m very proud of my team. We were down by five at halftime, but then we got the ball to Shereesha.”
“We didn’t want to be the team to end the streak,’ Tate said. “Ebone [Henry] and Julie [Forstser] started the run, and other players kept it going. It didn’t make any sense for us to have the streak end.”
Maine coach Richard Barron felt his team did almost everything it could to pull out a win.
“We did well defensively,” he said. “To hold them to 59 is well below their average. Foul trouble was a factor for us, but we took too long to make adjustments. UAlbany is a very good team.”
Swan 4-11 0-0 8, Gustafsson 3-11 5-6 11, Wood 3-6 2-4 10, Weckstrom 0-0 0-0 0, Koizar 5-12 3-4 15, Charles 3-7 1-2 8, Bodine 2-4 0-0 5, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Heise 0-0 1-2 0. Totals: 20-51 12-18 58.
Richards 11-18 9-10 31, Edwards 1-2 1-3 3, Coughlin 1-2 0-0 3, Tate 7-17 1-1 15, Saunders 3-11 0-0 6, Aiyalogbe 0-0 1-2 1, Forster 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-50 12-16 59.
Maine 12 16 13 17 — 58
UAlbany 14 9 15 21 — 59
Three-point goals: Maine 6-14 (Wood 2-3, Koizar 2-5, Charles 1-3, Bodine 1-3); UAlbany 1-3 (Richards 0-1, Tate 1-2). Rebounds: Maine 31 (Swan 6, Gustafsson 6, Wood 6); UAlbany 30 (Richards 9, Tate 9). Assists: Maine 12 (Gustafsson 4), UAlbany 313 (Tate 5). Personal fouls: Maine 18, UAlbany 17. Fouled out: Wood. Officials: Fatou Cissoko-Stephens, Rachelle Jones, Mike Schmidt. Attendance: 1,519.