ALBANY — With a road win Wednesday, the UAlbany women’s basketball program can accomplish two things it hasn’t in quite some time.
One, the Great Danes will have defeated Maine, a program that’s defeated UAlbany in nine consecutive matchups — and most recently in last year’s America East Conference semifinals. The last eight of those nine losses have been on Colleen Mullen’s watch, as the current UAlbany head coach has yet to win a game against the Black Bears during her four seasons leading the Great Danes.
Two, UAlbany will establish itself as the favorite to earn the America East Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which the Great Danes have not played in since 2017.
“It’s definitely a big game for us,” UAlbany senior Ellen Hahne said Tuesday during a teleconference with reporters. “Maine is a good team and it’s the first time we see them this season, so it’s a big game because of that. But I think also because of last season — them being our last game — it’s a statement game for us.”
Ahead of their matchup 7 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Gym in Orono, Maine, UAlbany (9-2 America East, 16-6 overall) and Maine (8-3, 11-10) each have won five consecutive games. The Great Danes are in second place in the league standings and the Black Bears are in third, but first-place Stony Brook is ineligible for the conference playoffs, so the matchup in Maine pits the league’s current top-two seeds.
A win against Maine — winners of three of the last four regular-season America East titles — would provide the Great Danes at least a two-game cushion in the standings over every other postseason-eligible team. After its trip to Maine, UAlbany then plays fourth-place Vermont (7-4, 13-9) Saturday at SEFCU Arena and Monday in Burlington, so the Great Danes have ample opportunity to gain more separation against a top rival.
“Just coming up here . . . every game feels like a championship game,” Mullen said. “It really does. And . . . going on the road up to Maine, it would be amazing to kind of steal one up there, and then come back and have that back to back with Vermont. But, you know, future problems, I guess. It’s just one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one possession at a time. That’s what I tell my players, and I try to take a taste of my own medicine there.”
Earning home-court advantage for the duration of the America East playoffs, though, is no small thing for the Great Danes. UAlbany is a perfect 11-0 at SEFCU Arena, and is coming off a home win that saw the Great Danes allow a program-low 24 points against a Division I opponent in their win Saturday vs. Hartford.
That defensive effort dropped UAlbany’s average scoring allowed to 46.9 points per game, which ranks Mullen’s team No. 1 in Division I. The Great Danes, though, will receive a significant test on defense from Maine, which ranks third in per-game scoring in conference play and features a talented roster led by a pair of 2020-21 all-conference selections in junior Anne Simon and graduate student Maeve Carroll.
Simon averages a league-leading 16.1 points per game and an America East-best 3.2 steals, while Carroll averages 10.1 points and a league-leading 8.3 rebounds. Simon was a first-team selection last season in the America East, while Carroll was a second-team pick for head coach Amy Vachon’s program.
Maine started the season 2-7, but Mullen said she’s not surprised to see how the Black Bears have recovered.
“Amy Vachon is a tremendous coach,” Mullen said. “Year in and year out, she does a great job and they get better every game.”
But UAlbany, too, has the look of a team that hasn’t hit its peak yet this season. The Great Danes have won 15 of their last 18 games, and feature several players likely to earn some type of all-conference recognition at the end of this season.
UAlbany’s focus right now, though, is squarely on ending its long losing streak to Maine.
“That would definitely be huge for us,” Hahne said. “I think we’re all feeling that rivalry toward Maine.”