ALBANY — Head coach Colleen Mullen expected her UAlbany women’s basketball program to take a step forward this season.
Wednesday night, the Great Danes looked more like a team ready to take a strong leap.
“I don’t think I was expecting quite this,” Mullen said after her team’s emphatic opening-night 70-41 win against Hofstra at SEFCU Arena.
Playing against a Hofstra club returning five starters — plus a 2019-20 starter who missed last season due to injury — from a team that defeated UAlbany by 18 points in last season’s opening game for the Great Danes, Mullen’s squad used a balanced offensive effort and a strong defensive one to cruise to victory. The 29-point victory was the largest for UAlbany against a fellow Division I opponent since Mullen was hired prior to the 2018-19 season.
Ellen Hahne led UAlbany with 17 points. The senior from Sweden was the only UAlbany player to record double-digit scoring, though, as 11 Great Danes scored and eight contributed at least five points.
“Everybody just contributed. No matter who was in the game, people had winning plays,” Mullen said. “It really was a total team effort. We’ve been working to try to build this culture for quite some time, and we just have a really special group — and you can feel it, sometimes, just in terms of the way that they treat each other, the way they approach practice, the way they accept coaching.
“And they certainly prepared for this, and they certainly earned this win — and I’m thrilled for them.”
Last season, UAlbany never scored more than 71 points in a game, averaged 49.8 points per game and scored fewer than 50 points in seven of the team’s final eight games. On Wednesday, the Great Danes scored at least 14 points in each period, led by as many as 31 and maintained at least a 20-point advantage after junior Grace Heeps made a 3-pointer with a few minutes to go in the third quarter.
“This was a great start to our season,” Hahne said. “We played really good together. We had so much energy going into the game.”
Mullen started her four returning starters — Lucia Decortes, Helene Haegerstrand, Hahne and Heeps — as well as Lilly Phillips, a freshman who starred at Cambridge High School. In her college debut, the former Section II standout had seven points in 20 minutes, and was thrilled to see a few dozen supporters wearing Cambridge orange in the stands when headed onto the court for warmups.
“I was really surprised,” Phillips said. “I knew Cambridge could travel, but it was just really exciting for me. I was so happy they were there.”
UAlbany led 20-18 after a quarter, then took a 39-22 lead into halftime after closing a dominant second quarter with a 10-0 run.
“We just locked in on defense and then our offense came from there,” Hahne said.
Perhaps most promising from Wednesday’s game? Decortes and Haegerstrand dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, and each played fewer than 20 minutes. Even without two of the team’s top players on the floor for big minutes, the Great Danes registered a performance that saw them assist on 72% of their baskets, limit Hofstra to a 0 of 11 showing from 3-point territory and win the rebounding battle 45-21 in front of an announced crowd of 1,097.
UAlbany wasn’t perfect. The Great Danes committed as many turnovers as it had assists with 18, and the team missed a third of its attempts from the foul line.
But it was a great start, and Mullen said she’d make sure in the upcoming days that her team knew it needed to grow from its opening effort.
“We just can’t be satisfied with this,” said Mullen, whose team next plays Tuesday at Merrimack. “We have to feel good about this and enjoy it, but we’ve got to get back to work, and really take every practice we have as an opportunity to continue to get better and really see where this team can go.”
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Categories: College Sports, Sports