ALBANY — UAlbany wants to keep its undefeated home record intact, stay right in the mix for the America East Conference’s top seed and keep building momentum during what’s becoming a special season.
“It’s also time for revenge,” Great Danes head coach Colleen Mullen said Friday during a teleconference with reporters.
The UAlbany women’s basketball program leader didn’t try to hide from what’s a key piece of Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Hartford at SEFCU Arena, where the Great Danes are 10-0 this season.
The Hawks shocked the Great Danes back in mid-January, as Hartford won 52-49 in the first meeting between the teams. That matchup had pitted a then-winless Hartford club against a UAlbany team that had won seven games in a row, the Great Danes’ best streak since winning eight consecutive games during the 2017-18 season.
UAlbany (8-2 America East, 15-6 overall) played that game against Hartford (2-5, 2-16) without key contributors Lucia Decortes and Ellen Hahne, and the game was the Great Danes’ third in six days. Still, UAlbany was in position to win nearly midway through the final quarter . . . until Hartford erased the Great Danes’ final lead of the game with an errant pass that found its way through the basket for a 3-pointer.
So, yes: This weekend’s game between second-place UAlbany and two-win Hartford is one the Great Danes have had circled on the calendar.
“It means a lot to us,” said sophomore Kayla Cooper, the team’s leading per-game scorer and rebounder at 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. “Last game, they caught us at a bad time. Now that we’re back [to] full force and we’re all ready, it’s definitely going to be a fun game for us.”
In that loss to Hartford, Cooper had 22 points. Leading the Hawks in that game with 18 points was Paula Maurina, who is Hartford’s top scorer on the season at 11.6 points per game.
AUTISM AWARENESS GAME
The Great Danes’ contest against Hartford will serve as their program’s “Autism Awareness Game.”
“It’s certainly a thing that’s close to home for us,” Mullen said.
Mullen’s twin sons Brennan and Callan were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder a few years ago. After sharing that information with her players, then-freshman Taniya Hanner told Mullen that she had been diagnosed with autism when she was 5 years old.
As she had told her players about her sons’ diagnosis, Mullen remembered Friday that she had been “struggling” to deal with that development. Hanner — now a junior — revealing she had been diagnosed with autism served to comfort the coach.
“She told me, and I was like, ‘Wow, you’re a Division I basketball player, look at all the success you’ve had,’” Mullen said. “Not that when you have autism, you’re not going to have success — but when you get to see that, in that moment, the hope that it gave me and my family was really special.”
Mullen said she wants to help other families how Hanner helped her family.
“You want to build an inclusive and accepting world, and you want to talk about just kindness. People are different, and I want to make sure that I’m doing everything with the platform that I have to help my children live a life that’s full of happiness and acceptance,” Mullen said. “So I think it’s really cool to be able to talk about it. We’re gonna have some videos at the game of me talking about my family, talking about how important early diagnosis is — and just the more accepting [people are], the more people [with autism] will get diagnosed, and then children will have access to very important intervention. I think that’s another reason why you want to have a person, like myself, say it’s OK to get your child diagnosed with autism, that they’re not going to have this stigma for the rest of their lives. What’s actually going to happen is you’re going to set them up for more success as they get older, as they can get access to important therapies and whatnot to help them.”
Last game, Mullen made a change to her starting lineup.
An unintentional one.
UAlbany started freshman Freja Werth in place of junior Grace Heeps in its win against UMBC . . . because the Great Danes accidentally entered No. 12 Werth instead of No. 14 Heeps when they had to set their starting lineup.
“We kind of made a coaching boo-boo,” Mullen said. “We had the wrong number in the [scorer’s] book. . . . We put the wrong starter number in it, [so] it was a confusion of people’s numbers.
“So,” Mullen continued, “that actually was not by design. But, luckily, it was Freja, so it worked perfectly and she did a great job.”
Once a team enters its starting lineup, it will receive a technical foul if it doesn’t use that group to open the game. Werth — one of UAlbany’s top reserves — played the game’s opening minutes, then Heeps entered the game.
“But we’ll be back with our . . . lineup that we’ve been starting consistently,” Mullen said of this weekend’s game.