ALBANY — It’s season-long winning streak at home is a thing of the past, as is the UAlbany women’s basketball program’s hopes to secure the top seed for this year’s America East Conference playoffs.
Those factors — combined with the fact that the Great Danes have played .500 basketball over their last six games — have helped decrease the buzz around this weekend’s rematch with Stony Brook, UAlbany’s last America East game against its SUNY rival.
But, after a tough loss Wednesday against Maine, there is still plenty at stake for UAlbany, a club that needs to use Saturday’s 4 p.m. home game against the Seawolves to make sure it heads into the conference playoffs with confidence.
“I think that the message to the team in the locker room is: this is about us,” UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen said Thursday. “It’s about us. It’s about feeling good about how we play. Yes, do we want to win? Absolutely. We’re going for 20 wins, it’s our home court, it’s the last game of the regular season — you want to win going into the tournament.
“But, more importantly, you want to feel good about how you’re playing.”
Ahead of playing Stony Brook (14-3 league, 23-4), UAlbany (12-5, 19-9) fell 49-45 to Maine, an outcome that dealt the Great Danes their first loss at SEFCU in 14 games this season and delivered the postseason’s top seed to the Black Bears. UAlbany will finish as either the No. 2 or 3 seed for the league playoffs, while Stony Brook has been ruled ineligible for the conference tournament due to the school’s impending departure for the Colonial Athletic Association.
So Stony Brook has some extra motivation for the game — and likely gained even more when the Seawolves lost earlier this week to sixth-place UMass Lowell.
“I’m sure they’re not happy about it as they travel here,” Mullen said of the Seawolves’ unexpected loss Wednesday.
UAlbany, too, is a team that’s not thrilled at the moment. Its loss Wednesday removed any chance it had of clinching the right to host every playoff game it played this year, and the team now could be in line to host only one postseason game. More than that, Wednesday’s loss to Maine kept the Great Danes from recording the signature win they craved ahead of the playoffs, and was a defeat that senior center Lucia Decortes said left her team with an “anger” it needed to handle.
“I feel like we all feel the same way, and we just want to go ahead and play a tough game Saturday,” Decortes said right after Wednesday’s loss.
Ellen Hahne — another UAlbany senior — said that, by Thursday, the Great Danes had mentally moved on from their first home loss of the season.
“I mean, it’s never fun to to lose — and, I think it’s definitely challenging to be able to let go of a loss when you’re feeling angry about it. You know, you rethink the whole game, thinking about what you could have done differently and what did not work,” Hahne said. “But it’s really just [focusing] on thinking . . . what’s next. You don’t have time to dwell on anything, really. Like, we’re watching film, we’re trying to learn from it. . . . It can be challenging, but I think our schedule, with [it’s] quick turnarounds, you don’t have time to really dwell on things, so you really just have to move quickly and think about the next thing.”
The most-pressing item for UAlbany to clean up is the one that the Great Danes have been trying to right for several weeks. While no Division I team in the nation allows fewer points per game than UAlbany’s 48.4, the Great Danes’ offense has only scored 60 or more points in one of their last 12 games — and that one time saw UAlbany score 61.
Mullen said there are “fixes” her team needs to make within its offense, but that she wanted to use the time between her team’s games this week to remind her players that they have the ability to make the needed corrections.
“As coaches, you don’t want your players to question [themselves], you want them to remember that they’re capable, that they’ve done it before, and to have trust in their preparation, and to just go back to the basics and not overthink it,” Mullen said.
Stony Brook defeated UAlbany 58-47 earlier this season. Securing a season split with the Seawolves would also mean the Great Danes finished .500 this season against the America East’s top-four teams other than themselves.
Hahne described UAlbany’s regular-season-ending contest as a “big game” and one that’s “obviously fun to play” since it’s against a rival, but said the Great Danes’ top aim is on making sure they head into the playoffs off an effort they can build on as their program looks to claim its first NCAA tournament bid since 2017.
“There’s really no pressure on this game, [it’s] more so us getting back to what we want to do and . . . making sure that we execute on both ends,” Hahne said. “So I think it’s more a game where we have to focus on ourselves and getting back to who we are and what we want to do, and not focusing so much [on] who our opponent is.”