There was a point this season where, given her team’s multiple coronavirus-related pauses and other America East rivals opting out of the season, UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen wasn’t certain if the Great Danes’ program would even be able to still be playing by the time March rolled around.
And, despite the way UAlbany’s season ended Sunday — with a 67-47 loss to Maine in the semifinals of the America East tournament in Bangor, Maine — Mullen’s message to her team immediately after stepping off the court at Cross Insurance Center was one of pride.
“It’s been a lot on these student-athletes,” Mullen said during a post-game teleconference. “But, at the end of the game, I said, ‘I’ve learned so much from you. I’ve learned how tough you guys really are.’ When things are difficult, that’s when you really learn a lot about yourself. That’s when you learn what you’re capable of — not when things are easy.”
UAlbany (No. 4 seed, 7-11 overall) gave regular-season conference champion Maine (No. 1, 17-2) an early jolt, but the Black Bears unleashed a 19-3 run between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second quarter to take the lead for good.
An 8-0 run briefly got UAlbany within 21-18, but Maine scored seven straight points to head to halftime up by 10, then used a 24-point surge in the third quarter to lead by 21. That advantage ballooned to as many as 30 in the fourth as Maine advanced to host the conference championship game Friday against second-seeded Stony Brook.
America East Conference Player of the Year Blanca Millan led four Maine players in double figures with 17 points and nine rebounds. Maine was on fire from 3-point range, making 11 of its 19 shots from beyond the arc.
“When Maine is going to shoot [nearly] 60% from 3,” Mullen said, “you know it’s going to be a long night.”
Meanwhile, UAlbany’s offense struggled to establish its interior presence, with Maine’s constant double-teams in the post disrupting the Great Danes’ rhythm.
UAlbany was forced into 17 turnovers, most of which came as the team tried to force the ball inside.
“Most of our offense is predicated on our post players, and they did not allow our post players to breathe this game,” UAlbany senior guard Kyara Frames said. “Any time the ball went inside, they doubled in on the post. Several of our turnovers came from the ball going into the post. They took us out of what we wanted to do.”
Frames said UAlbany was “frazzled” when Maine unleashed its big run in the first half and didn’t make enough adjustments to stem the tide.
Ellen Hahne finished with 15 points, Frames scored 12 and Kayla Cooper chipped in 10 points to lead UAlbany. The team’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Helene Haegerstrand, was limited to just two points on 1 of 5 shooting.
Frames, one of only two seniors on the team alongside Khepera Stokes, said it was “still up in the air” whether she’d use an extra year of eligibility to return to UAlbany in 2021-22.
“This is my forever home,” she said. “Even if I can’t play another year here, I’ll always be a part of this program. That won’t ever change.”
But, after weathering the adversity of this season, with a relatively young team forced multiple times to pause team activities while its schedule was flipped end-over-end due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic — something Maine coach Amy Vachon noted when she asked to address to the UAlbany team following the game — both Frames and Mullen are bullish on UAlbany’s future prospects.
“I’m just looking forward to having a postseason and actually trying to work and doing some player development,” Mullen said. “I’m really liking the direction the program’s going.”