TROY — There was a lot going on Saturday night at the Maine/UAlbany women’s basketball game.
For starters, it was Senior Night, when seven players were honored pre-game. And then the fact that it’s Maine, which has been a thorn in the Great Danes’ side for many years.
One of the pains produced came from the Black Bears’ 50-49 win over the Great Danes on Jan. 28. So UAlbany wanted to come away Saturday night with all rose, no thorn.
It did just that. UAlbany kept its place atop the conference rankings with a 53-50 win over the Black Bears at Hudson Valley Community College.
UAlbany (13-2 AE, 19-10 overall) led 25-19 at halftime, but Maine (9-5, 13-13) rallied and took the lead. The Black Bears even led by five, 45-40, with 6:24 left, but UAlbany went to its bread and butter down the stretch.
Helene Haegerstrand and Kayla Cooper have been that bread and butter for a while now, and they made big shots when they needed to Saturday.
Haegerstrand hit a jumper, Cooper made two free throws and then Haegerstrand hit a 3-pointer to close Maine’s lead to 48-47. Cooper then muscled her way inside for a go-ahead bucket with 2:20 left. She later made a three-point play to put UAlbany ahead 52-48 with 1:53 left.
It got a little nerve-wracking down the stretch, and slowed by the officiating crew’s thorough reviews, but Ellen Hahne made one of two free throws with 4.8 seconds left to make it 53-50. A long 3-point try by Maine never made it to the rim, as the Great Danes rushed to celebrate at center court.
Haegerstrand said it was just the players’ heart that came through when they were down five.
“We knew we could defend them,” Haegerstrand said. “It was Senior Night, and we knew how we wanted it to end. There was no other option than taking that game back.”
UAlbany has had problems with allowing too many first-quarter points this season, but not so Saturday, as it played a strong defensive opening in leading 10-6 after one quarter.
Maine went on an 8-0 run in the second to take a 16-15 lead, but UAlbany responded to close the half on a 10-3 run of its own, with Haegerstrand (17 points) knocking down two 3s as part of it.
But Maine’s Adrianna Smith, a crafty post player, came alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 of her game-high 22 points to give the Black Bears a 40-38 lead entering the fourth.
Haegerstrand said she thought she’d have to control her emotions more than she did after the pre-game ceremonies, with her family from Sweden present.
“I was expecting more tears from myself,” she said, chuckling. “I’m happy we played Maine, because it made it very game-focused. Just to have [my family] here for a game like this is a huge bonus. … We wanted to play for each other, and we do it well and I think we showed that tonight.”
UAlbany coach Colleen Mullen said Cooper, who had the sixth double-double of her season with 19 points and 11 rebounds, is dangerous when she takes her time, as she did on the go-ahead bucket.
“She knew Smith had fouls,” Mullen said, “and she just took her time. She literally just waited, took her time, looked at the basket. She knew Smith wasn’t going to foul her. And she finished it.
“That’s the thing about Kayla, she’s so explosive. It doesn’t matter if she missed eight layups in the first half, she can really turn it around,” Mullen added.
Hahne was another one of the seniors/graduate students honored who had a special night. Starting the year asked to provide more scoring because of injuries, her role has changed now that Haegerstrand and Cooper are back, but she provided a good all-around game with seven points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and outstanding defense.
UAlbany stays a half-game ahead of Vermont in the standings, but the Catamounts are another problem for another day. Saturday was for beating Maine, just like it did in last year’s America East championship.
“It’s nice we were able to clinch a win in the regular season,” Mullen said. “It’s not really talked about that there’s a lot riding on every game we have, and there was a lot riding on it tonight, but it’s just another conference game. There’s a whole other season that’s going to happen in a week and a half, and we’re trying to put ourselves in the best position possible to host games.”