TROY — There was urgency, but no need to hurry.
The UAlbany women’s basketball team got the ball with six seconds left in the third quarter of a tight game against UMass Lowell on Wednesday and methodically moved it the length of the floor.
For the first time all night, Kayla Cooper had smooth sailing, but only dwindling seconds to enjoy it, so she hustled down the lane and calmly laid the ball in as the buzzer sounded to put UAlbany up 43-39.
In typical fashion, the No. 2-seeded Great Danes leaned on the poise that comes with playoff experience to beat stubborn No. 7 UMass Lowell 59-51 at Hudson Valley Community College’s McDonough Athletic Complex.
Cooper faced rough double teams, but never got flustered; her team couldn’t make 3-pointers for most of the night, but Ellen Hahne nailed two back-to-back in the fourth quarter; and ultimately UAlbany won ugly with coordinated team defense that helped push the Great Danes into the semifinals against Maine at 3 p.m. Saturday at HVCC.
“We’re very experienced, and there’s definitely a sense of calmness to that,” Hahne said. “We trust in each other so much, so even when the opponent gets in a run or gets closer to us, we’re fine. We never feel frantic or pressed in those situations.”
“Their experience was invaluable,” UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen said. “They know what it takes. They know the urgency that both teams have. UMass Lowell is a 7 seed, they’re not supposed to win. They can play with a different sense of looseness than we can. But at the end of the day, we found a way, we grinded it out.”
After the River Hawks (5-22) tied it at 39-39 with 1:41 left in the third quarter on a 3-point play by Amaya Dowdy, Helene Haegerstrand scored inside, and Cooper made the buzzer beater uncontested after Haegerstrand rebounded a miss on defense and UAlbany quickly worked the ball up the length of the court..
That led to the Great Danes building their biggest lead of the game to that point, 46-39 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.
“I think that was a pretty big momentum-changer for me,” Cooper said. “I had a little bit of difficulty throughout the whole game, but I knew that there was only six seconds left, and I had the lane to go, so I used my confidence and then used that play to propel me into the fourth quarter.”
The River Hawks got back within 46-44, but Hahne answered with her two 3-pointers, both from the same spot on the left wing and assisted by Lilly Phillips.
“We started running those plays where we can get those looks in the corner and those slips,” Hahne said. “That’s what was open, and that’s what we got there.”
As she frequently does, Cooper took a pounding from the UMass Lowell defense, especially Dowdy.
Cooper bounced away from Dowdy’s defense near the basket and found an open jumper from the right elbow to give UAlbany a 54-44 lead.
The Great Danes held the River Hawks at bay by making five of six free throws in the final 1:16, including 4-for-4 from Phillips.
“The interesting piece is they just want it so bad, and when you want it so bad, you have a tendency to press and go faster and to push more,” Mullen said. “As a coach, you’re just trying to remind them to do what we do best, stay consistent with what we do. We don’t have to be the best team in the country, we just have to be the best team on the floor.”
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” UMass Lowell head coach Denise King said. “They’re resilient, they’re tough. It wasn’t our day today.
“We talked about battling and where we’re supposed to be defensively, who we can sag off them and use our length to disrupt some things. We were locked into not letting people get what they normally get.”
UAlbany wasn’t the only high seed to find itself in a close game.
No. 1 Vermont tipped two hours before the other three quarterfinal games, and the Catamounts survived by seven points over No. 8 Bryant.
“Our staff were cluing me in. ‘Oh, what’s the score?’ ‘Oh, it’s three,’” Mullen said with a grin. “Don’t want to tell me. So I was getting the updates, but it’s called March Madness for a reason. Anything can happen.
“The top four seeds have moved on, but it’s time to really learn from this game and be super-focused on Maine. They’re all talented teams. But it’s interesting that the score ended up being very similar to our game.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.