Patrick Gymnasium is one of the toughest places in the America East Conference to play, and it’s even tougher when Marqus Blakely, the reigning player of the year and defensive player of the year, is dunking to finish off a Vermont fast break.
University at Albany hopes to keep Blakely’s highlight slams to a minimum when the Great Danes visit the Catamounts in Burlington, Vt., today at 4 p.m.
Vermont has won 16 of the previous 22 games in the series, but the Great Danes swept the pair of regular-season games for the first time in 2007-08, and they also defeated the Catamounts in back-to-back conference tournament championship games.
“I think the reason that this has become a rivalry is that we’ve played in some big games against each other in recent years,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “If Albany and Vermont never played in America East Conference championship games two years in a row, I don’t think it would be such a rivalry. When Tom Brennan was coaching there, it wasn’t really a rivalry, because we never beat them.”
Patrick Gymnasium seats 3,266 fans, and it’s usually full, especially for UAlbany games.
“They’ve got great fan support, and we’ve just got to try and zone it out and create our own energy,” Brown said. “Every basket they get, the place erupts. We just can’t allow them to get going, especially off Blakely dunks. We can’t afford careless turnovers which lead to spectacular highlight plays from Blakely. That really gets the crowd going.
“Usually what happens is that on every turnover, they get baskets off transition. They end up getting an alley-oop dunk to Blakely and the place goes crazy. Any time you play Vermont, the key is the Blakely factor. You have to make him work very hard for his points. He’s the most dominant player in our league, and you can’t allow him to beat you. He also makes everyone else on his team better, because he demands so much attention.”
Blakely, a 6-foot-5 forward, averages 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. He tops the conference in blocked shots (3.1 per game) and is shooting 55.3 percent from the floor. An Associated Press All-American, Blakely needs 45 points to become the program’s 28th 1,000-point scorer.
Another key player for Vermont (0-1, 9-5) is point guard Mike Trimboli, a 6-1 senior who averages 15.4 points and 4.7 assists per game. He is fifth in points (1,712) and third in assists (537) on UVM’s all-time list.
Albany (1-1, 9-6) is coming off a thrilling 62-61 come-from-behind victory over Boston University Thursday night. The Terriers played without three of their top players, but Albany was in severe foul trouble most of the game.
“We hung in there, and we showed some resiliency. It would have been very easy for us to fold,” said Brown. “The tough thing is, it doesn’t matter who our opponent is. If we play against 40 minutes of zone defense, we’re going to struggle. We haven’t shot the ball well all year, and we’re not a jump-shooting team. The key is we have to continue to rebound and to defend.”
Sophomore guard Tim Ambrose snapped out of a shooting slump with 19 points and a career-best 11 rebounds against BU and is averaging a team-best 11.7 points per game. Junior forward Will Harris (10.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), is coming off back-to-back double-doubles, and freshman point guard Anthony Raffa contributes 10.8 ppg.
Senior forward Brian Connelly contributes 8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds, while 6-11 junior center Brett Gifford averages 2.2 points and 4.6 rebounds a game. Louis Barraza, a 6-5 sophomore swingman, scored 11 points off the bench against the Terriers.