BURLINGTON, Vt. — With the American East championship game tied 4-4 after the first quarter, UAlbany and Vermont were destined to make some history on Friday night.
In what turned out to be the lowest-scoring women’s basketball championship game in conference history, Vermont (25-6) staved off a fourth-quarter comeback by the Great Danes (22-11) to win 38-36 and clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Vermont’s 38 points mark the fewest points a winning team has ever scored in an America East women’s basketball championship game, and UAlbany’s 36 points mark the fewest ever scored in a championship since Boston University’s 43 points in 2004.
“Obviously, that was a blood-bath, if you will, of scoring — or lack thereof I suppose, on both sides,” said UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen.
After both teams each made two shots from the field in the first quarter, UAlbany’s Ellen Hahne hit a 3-pointer to kick off the second. The Great Danes then didn’t score for over eight minutes, as Vermont went on a 13-0 run. Kayla Cooper ended the drought with a layup and free throw, inside a minute remaining in the half.
“It’s the lowest-scoring game we’ve ever had, especially in the first half,” Cooper said, with UAlbany trailing Vermont 17-10 at halftime. “We’re the No. 1 and 2 teams on defense. We knew that we had to defend them and let them do what they wanted to do, and they did the same thing to us.”
The Great Danes scored just 17 points through the first three quarters, with four in the first, six in the second and seven in the third.
UAlbany came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 in the period — more than they had the rest of the game.
The Catamounts led by 12 points with about five minutes remaining. That’s when UAlbany went on a 14-3 run, cutting Vermont’s lead to just one point, 37-36.
The rally began on a layup by Cooper, continued by two immediate steals that turned into fast-break points by Cooper and Helene Haegerstrand.
Haegerstrand nailed a 3-pointer with nine seconds remaining, keeping UAlbany alive.
“We had faith in her,” Cooper said of Haegerstrand. “She’s hit that shot before, and we knew she would do it again.”
“We hit some big shots, but it was too late unfortunately,” Haegerstrand said. “That happens. It wasn’t our night. The percentage of scoring was very low this game. … It’s two very good defensive teams, and it’s unfortunate we came back too late.”
After Vermont went up 38-36 on a free throw, Morgan Haney was called for an open-lane foul, which resulted in a technical free throw and possession for the Catamounts, with six seconds on the clock.
UAlbany regained possession with four seconds remaining. On the inbound, Grace Heeps took the final shot from around mid-court, with a little over a second left in the game.
“No, it wasn’t,” Mullen said on if that was the shot she had planned.
“That 19 points we had in the fourth quarter, that came because we started making baskets and could get into our pressure,” Mullen added. “We got turnovers, scored more and got some easier stuff. In the first half of the game we couldn’t score, so we couldn’t get into any pressure.”
Emma Utterback, who was named the tournament MVP, led Vermont with 18 points. Anna Olsen had nine points and 16 rebounds, while Delaney Richason and Bella Vito each collected 10 boards.
Cooper’s 12 points and nine rebounds led the way for the Great Danes, while Haegerstrand contributed 10 points.
Vermont outrebounded UAlbany 53-36. The Great Danes shot 24.6% from the floor, while the Catamounts shot 23.2%.
“I told them that this game does not define our season and who we are as a team,” Mullen said. “I’m really proud of them. We’ve been through so much adversity this year, and to get to this game, to win any game at the Division 1 level is so hard.”
The UAlbany coach noted that the season is not over for the Great Danes, who will look forward to the WNIT tournament.
“Our season’s not over. We’re going to the [W]NIT, which is great,” she said. “It’s another opportunity for the younger players to get experience and continue this great year. Even though we’re pretty banged up and injured, it’s really important that we participate in such a great tournament.”
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