ALBANY — In this unprecedented and unpredictable season, it was just “one more thing” for head coach Colleen Mullen’s UAlbany women’s basketball team to try to handle.
Before playing their first game in 25 days, the Great Danes found out after their Wednesday practice that their opponent was changing for this weekend — and, oh, by the way, that new opponent was the best team in the America East Conference.
And, Saturday at SEFCU Arena, Maine certainly looked the part of being the conference’s top team and one that wasn’t coming off a long spell between games. Maine — the America East’s first-place team, which has three preseason all-conference selections in its starting lineup — defeated UAlbany 66-48 in the Great Danes’ first game since ending 2020 with a pause of in-person team activities because of a positive COVID-19 test result.
While Saturday’s result was “obviously not the outcome we want,” Mullen said during Saturday’s post-game teleconference that the Great Danes were thrilled simply to be back on the court after not playing since a Dec. 22 loss at Fordham.
“It really takes its toll, and I just can’t express how proud I am of their resilience, and their desire to want to play and compete,” Mullen said.
UAlbany was originally supposed to play at NJIT this weekend, but the America East needed to adjust its schedule because of pandemic-related disruptions. So, instead, UAlbany played host to Maine — which was supposed to play Vermont this weekend — at SEFCU Arena, in what became the Great Danes’ home opener after they had played their first six games on the road.
UAlbany junior Lucia Decortes described the switch in opponent as just another moment in “such a weird year,” while Mullen acknowledged the change didn’t do the Great Danes any favors. Still, the head coach said the last-minute change in the team’s schedule was “not an excuse” her team wanted to use to explain Saturday’s showing.
“That’s not the story we want to write,” Mullen said.
Mullen, though, said Maine and UAlbany were “just not at a level playing field right now,” and Maine head coach Amy Vachon recognized that, too. Her team wanted to force and take advantage of turnovers, and UAlbany’s offense — which Mullen described as “choppy” — committed 21 turnovers to Maine’s eight, and the Great Danes were outscored 25-5 off turnovers.
“I think if you catch Albany in a couple weeks,” Vachon said, “you might see a different outcome in that area.”
UAlbany (1-2, 2-5) trailed Maine (6-1, 9-1) 51-36 after three quarters, and Maine used a 6-0 spurt in the first 46 seconds of the fourth to eliminate the potential for any late-game drama. UAlbany trailed by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter, which didn’t see the Great Danes score until there was 4:52 remaining in it.
For Maine, Blanca Millan and Maeve Carroll each had 16 points, while Dor Saar added 15. Decortes led UAlbany with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Sophomore Fatima Lee, a transfer from Providence, made her UAlbany debut with six points in 24 minutes. Lee was not supposed to play this season for the Great Danes, but the NCAA’s mid-December granting of a blanket waiver for transfers — combined with the additional year of playing eligibility the NCAA previously granted athletes competing this winter amid the pandemic — helped the 5-foot-7 guard from Queens get onto the court this season.
Stella Popp, a freshman guard from Austria, also made her UAlbany debut Saturday. She scored two points in a dozen minutes.
UAlbany and Maine meet again Sunday at SEFCU Arena at noon. Before Saturday’s game, Mullen said she spoke briefly with Vachon about the matchup between the teams that was moved up from early February to this weekend.
“We were just so happy that we both have games,” Mullen said.