ALBANY — Still undefeated at home, still in control of its path to the America East Conference’s top postseason seed.
That’s how the UAlbany women’s basketball team left its first of two matchups with Vermont in a quick stretch, as the Great Danes earned a hard-fought 54-52 win Saturday against the visiting Catamounts.
“I think we really needed this game for our confidence, to be able to win a close game,” said UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen, whose team was coming off a tough road loss at Maine.
The Great Danes never trailed in Saturday’s final three quarters, but a 3-pointer from Josie Larkins to end the third brought Vermont within 42-38 and UAlbany’s largest lead in the fourth was six points. Vermont had multiple possessions in the final minutes where it could have pulled even or ahead, but UAbany’s best-in-the-nation scoring defense was able to make enough stops and the Great Danes made enough free throws to make sure they improved their record at SEFCU Arena to 12-0.
In the fourth quarter, UAlbany made 10 of 12 free throws, including 5 of 6 in the final 30 seconds. Even still, after Vermont’s Emma Utterback made a 3 with 3.0 seconds to go, the Great Danes needed to successfully get past one final-court press from the Catamounts to earn the victory. Vermont nearly stole the inbounds pass, but UAlbany’s Lucia Decortes was able to grab the loose ball and found teammate Ellen Hahne open up the court with a pass that sealed the win.
“This game was definitely closer than we would have hoped for,” said Hahne, whose team had a 14-point lead late in the first half. “But I’m just really proud of how we grinded it out and were able to come out with a win.”
Helene Haegerstrand had a game-high 21 points for the Great Danes, while Kayla Cooper had nine and Grace Heeps added eight. UAlbany only made 17 of 49 shots from the field, but was 15 of 19 at the foul line.
For Vermont, Anna Olson had 15 points and seven rebounds. Utterback contributed 13 points and six assists.
UAlbany (10-3 league, 17-7 overall) and Vermont (8-5, 14-10) meet again Monday at noon in Burlington, as the teams will tip off two games less than 48 hours apart after a game between the teams earlier this season needed to be rescheduled due to health-and-safety protocols.
“A lot of film, breaking it down, showing our players what we did well and the things that we have to clean up,” Vermont head coach Alisa Kresge said of how her club will utilize the time between matchups with UAlbany. “But . . . I think these are two really good teams, and I think that [Monday’s rematch] can go either way, if we clean up some things — and I know they have stuff that they want to clean up.
“I think it’s going to be another battle, which is fun, right? That’s what this league is supposed to be about; it’s supposed to be competitive.”
Elsewhere Saturday in the America East, Maine upset first-place Stony Brook. The Seawolves are ineligible for the America East playoffs since their school is departing the conference after 2021-22 academic year to join the Colonial Athletic Association, and that means UAlbany and Maine are currently tied for the top spot among postseason-eligible teams.
Those two teams meet again on Feb. 23 at SEFCU Arena, and each still has the ability to clinch home-court advantage for the playoffs by winning all of its remaining games.