ALBANY — It’s a line head coach Colleen Mullen repeats enough that her UAlbany women’s basketball players often offer it up on their own: “You’ve got to be 10 points better on the road.”
Mullen seemingly says that before every road game, a catchphrase that’s “a steal from Dave Magarity,” the former longtime Army coach that Mullen worked for as an associate head coach prior to taking her current job with the Great Danes.
“Whether it’s the referees, whether it’s the crowd, whatever it is — you can’t just play a team on their home court even,” Mullen said earlier this week. “You have to be that much better. You’ve got to go in there, and you have to invade them. You have to be aggressive. You have to attack them and you need to try to push to be better — not play them even.”
That’s always the mindset for the Great Danes on the road, but it’s likely no America East Conference regular-season game they play will require them to be as good as they’ll need to be to earn a win on Long Island. UAlbany plays at 2 p.m. Saturday against Stony Brook at the Seawolves’ home Island Federal Credit Union Arena, a matchup that pits teams with matching 8-0 home records.
At stake: The winner on Stony Brook’s home court this weekend will earn sole possession of first place in the America East.
Stony Brook, led by first-year head coach Ashley Langford, is the conference’s reigning champion and features five per-game, double-digit scorers in its starting lineup. A matchup with the Seawolves is one that UAlbany senior center Lucia Decortes said the Great Danes understand the importance of, even if the league season still has quite a ways to go.
“It’s going to be a statement game for us,” Decortes said. “We just have to go there and play as hard as we can, and just prove that we’re that team this year.”
The “that team” there refers to the Great Danes being the top threat to Stony Brook in its attempt to repeat as league champions, a status UAlbany can seemingly cement with a great effort on Long Island.
The contest matches up the America East’s top-scoring offense against the league’s top-scoring defense, with Stony Brook (5-1 America East, 14-2 overall) averaging 69.1 points per game and UAlbany (4-1, 11-5) only allowing 48.2, the latter a figure that ranks second in the country.
Mullen said it’s no secret what the Great Danes need to do against the balanced Seawolves, whose double-digit scorers average between Leighah-Amori Wool’s 10.6 and Anastasia Warren’s 12.8 points per game.
“You’ve got to defend them. You’ve got to keep them out of the paint,” Mullen said. “You’ve got to make shots difficult. You’ve got to defend them inside and you’ve got to box out. This game is going to be won on the defensive end for us.”
UAlbany has the type of team to do that. The 6-foot-3 Decortes anchors the club’s defense, and ranks No. 1 in the America East in blocks per game at 1.7 and is No. 10 in steals per game at 1.5, but the Great Danes have quality defenders all over the floor.
“We’ve got to defend for 40 minutes to really be in a position to win the game,” Mullen said.
UAlbany should be close to full strength for the game. Freshman guard Lilly Phllips (ankle) is expected to return to the team’s lineup after missing Wednesday’s win against UMBC, and only wing player Ellen Hahne (health-and-safety protocols) is expected to miss the contest for the Great Danes.
While Hahne is one of UAlbany’s top all-around players, sophomore Kayla Cooper has starred in replacing the senior in UAlbany’s starting lineup. In the five games without Hahne available, Cooper — the reigning conference player of the week — has averaged 17 points and 8.4 rebounds, which ranks her second and fourth, respectively, in the league in those categories during conference-only games.
Like Stony Brook, though, UAlbany doesn’t overly rely on a single player. Eight Great Danes average 20-plus minutes per game, and UAlbany will need significant contributions from a number of players to leave the weekend in first place.
“The strength of our team,” Mullen said, “is still the team.”