UAlbany women’s basketball earns No. 16, will face No. 1 seed Louisville Friday

UAlbany women's basketball coach Colleen Mullen holds up the net after her team's America East Conference tournament championship win over Maine on Friday, March 11 in Orono, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

UAlbany women's basketball coach Colleen Mullen holds up the net after her team's America East Conference tournament championship win over Maine on Friday, March 11 in Orono, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

ALBANY — A weekend of celebration concluded Sunday night for the UAlbany women’s basketball program, which was still processing its America East Conference championship win as it found out its opponent in this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

“It’s been awesome. We’re just so happy. It’s a great feeling,” UAlbany senior Lucia Decortes said. “I just feel like we are all proud of ourselves. It’s been such a long process to get here.”

And it’s not done yet, as UAlbany found out Sunday night it will play Louisville — one of the national tournament’s No. 1 seeds, along with North Carolina State, South Carolina and Stanford — in a first-round game Friday at the Cardinals’ home KFC Yum! Center. As expected, UAlbany received a No. 16 seed for the national tournament, which starts for the Great Danes a week after their 56-47 league championship win at Maine this past Friday.

“On the bus [home], we sang and we danced, and we really just tried to enjoy the moment,” UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen said Sunday night at The Madison Theatre, where her program and supporters gathered to watch the NCAA tournament’s selection show. “Since then, it’s just been watching the game over and over, [and being like], ‘Did we really win?’ Yes, we won.’”

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“We’re so happy that our hard work paid off,” said sophomore Kayla Cooper, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the America East playoffs.

Mullen said she’s “watched the game probably five times” since the Great Danes won their program’s seventh league championship, and first of her four-season tenure leading UAlbany. Mullen said the weekend was a “whirlwind” for her, and she’s thrilled her players will get the chance to experience playing in the national tournament,

“It’s going to be such a reward for me as a coach to watch them get to experience that because it is so special and so unique,” Mullen said. “To win a championship and to go to the NCAA Tournament is truly a gift, but . . . that’s the outcome of their hard work. 

UAlbany was also a No. 16 seed in its most-recent trip to the NCAA tournament. In 2017, the Great Danes lost 116-55 to overall top seed UConn, which entered that year’s tournament as the four-time defending national champion and with a 107-game winning streak. That year, UConn pushed its record winning streak to 111 games before falling in the Final Four to Mississippi State.

This year, UAlbany brings a 23-9 record into its matchup with Louisville, which is 25-4 

“We have no pressure whatsoever, and just enjoying this and having fun with it is going to be the key,” UAlbany junior Helene Haegerstrand said.

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Overall, UAlbany will be making its program’s seventh appearance in the NCAA tournament when it plays this week. The Great Danes qualified for the national tournament each season from 2012 to 2017. 

The program is 1-6 in the Division I national tournament. UAlbany’s lone victory was in 2016 when it defeated Florida 61-59. UAlbany was a 12 seed that year, and lost its next game to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

Friday’s game time for UAlbany has not yet been announced.


Dawn Staley and South Carolina are once again a No. 1 seed in the tournament — a familiar role for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina earned the top overall seed in this year’s tournament field. The Gamecocks have been No. 1 in a region six times since 2014.

Staley isn’t buying the argument that as the top seed her Gamecocks will have an easy road to winning their second national championship.

“They said that the No. 1 overall seed has an easier path to the Final Four. I don’t see that,” Staley said. “But I do believe we’re going to play our best basketball from here on out.”

Potentially awaiting Aliyah Boston and the Gamecocks in the regional final could be Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa in a matchup of two top players in the sport.

The tournament’s other No. 2 seeds belong to UConn, Texas and Baylor.

While there will be much familiarity to the tournament, there also are some major changes — including expanding the field to 68 teams.

This year’s bracket grew to match the men’s field with the play-in games on Wednesday and Thursday. The Gamecocks, who top the Greensboro Region, will face the winner of Howard and Incarnate Word — one of the First Four games.

Expanding the field was one of the many changes to the women’s basketball tournament in the wake of inequities revealed at last season’s NCAAs.

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North Carolina State is the top seed in the Bridgeport Region and could face UConn in the regional final. The Huskies finally are getting healthy with reigning Associated Press player of the year Paige Bueckers working her way back from a knee injury that sidelined her for two months.

Defending champion Stanford headlines the Spokane Region. The Cardinal cruised through the Pac-12 and will try to win a second straight national title. Texas, which won the Big 12 earlier on Sunday, handed the Cardinal one of its three losses this season.

Bridgeport, Connecticut; Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; and Wichita, Kansas, will host the regionals and Minneapolis is the site of the Final Four on April 1 and 3.

Longwood, IUPUI and Incarnate Word will all be making their first appearance in March Madness — a phrase the women are allowed to use for the first time. Incarnate Word became the first sub-.500 team to play in the tournament since 2015.

The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference led the way with eight teams each in the field.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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