ALBANY — With a full week between its memorable victory in its regular-season finale and its America East Conference quarterfinal, the UAlbany women’s basketball program had the “chance to really enjoy that win and celebrate it” before turning its attention fully to the playoffs.
Against rival Stony Brook, UAlbany scored the final 13 points last weekend to earn a one-point win that fueled its confidence — but Great Danes head coach Colleen Mullen said her club understands that postseason victories will be even sweeter.
“We don’t want that to be the pinnacle of our season,” Mullen said Friday of last Saturday’s win against the Seawolves, who are ineligible for this year’s conference playoffs.
Second-seeded UAlbany starts its playoff journey at 2 p.m. Saturday against seventh-seeded New Hampshire at SEFCU Arena, a place the Great Danes are 14-1 this season. UAlbany (20-9) swept the season series against New Hampshire (7-20), and the Great Danes find themselves with a label they’ve often tried to give to others this season: the favorite.
“There’s definitely a relief of pressure when you’re the underdog,” UAlbany senior Ellen Hahne said. “But I think that us being a higher seed in this game just gives us more confidence. We have to go into the game knowing that we’re a higher seed for a reason, and that’s how we have to play.”
“We just have to be ready to play,” UAlbany redshirt sophomore Morgan Haney said. “I think they’re going to come out, just ready to win, ready to play, ready to battle, especially having lost two games to us. Really nothing to lose on their end. Target’s kind of on us.”
That’s unfamiliar territory for these Great Danes, who recorded this year the first 20-win campaign of Mullen’s four-season tenure. UAlbany has been building toward a season like its current one since Mullen’s hire, and Hahne said the Great Danes are enjoying the process of readying for a postseason run they expect to extend beyond this weekend.
“It’s definitely fun. This is what we have been practicing for since we got here in the summer,” Hahne said. “So this is definitely the fun part of it all, when it really, really matters and going into every game you know you have to win.”
In a season that saw UAlbany win more than twice as many games as it lost, Haney said there were still times when the club “lack[ed] that confidence in our abilities because we haven’t been in those positions before,” but that the Great Danes feel different after their statement victory against Stony Brook last weekend.
“I think that win has given us that reassurance that we’re right there, and we’re the best team coming into this tournament,” Haney said.
DEALING WITH INJURIES
Several Great Danes, Mullen said, are dealing with the “bumps and bruises of March,” but the head coach said UAlbany will have its full complement of players available against New Hampshire.
“We’ve got a lot of players playing in pain right now, and it’s about monitoring their practice time and trying to keep them as healthy as possible to prolong the season as long as we can,” Mullen said.
Senior Lucia Decortes had a walking boot on during Friday’s practice, and Mullen said the 6-foot-3 center is one of the Great Danes dealing with a “nagging injury” as UAlbany gets set to play its 30th game in less than four months.
“She still can play, but we’re just trying to rest her as much as possible,” Mullen said.
Five UAlbany players received recognition Thursday when the America East Conference announced its 2021-22 awards
Helene Haegerstrand earned a first-team all-conference selection, while Kayla Cooper was a second-team pick. Meanwhile, Haney was named the league’s sixth player of the year, Decortes was honored as an all-defensive team selection and Lilly Phillips earned an all-rookie team nod.
For Haney, her individual honor arrived after a season that saw her appear in every game for the Great Danes after missing nearly all of her first two seasons at UAlbany with knee injuries. Haney — who averaged 5.9 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists in 22.6 minutes per game during the regular season — said she was “very ecstatic to hear the news,” of her selection as the league’s top bench player, and Mullen shared that view.
“The path has not been easy for her,” Mullen said, “and I’m so proud that the coaches and the conference really recognized her hard work, and how she impacts our team.”