Julie Forster is a realist. She knows the chances of pulling an upset over defending national champion Texas A&M in tonight’s opening round of the NCAA tournament are too small to count, but she and her Great Danes still have a dream.
“We’re serious about going, but we want to enjoy the experience,” said the 6-foot junior forward who has led the America East Conference in rebounding for three straight seasons. “We’ll go and play hard. If we happen to win, we would make a whole lot of history.”
The 23-9 Great Danes have won 10 straight games, including their first-ever America East Conference tournament championship that earned them their initial NCAA women’s basketball tournament bid tonight at 6:30 in College Station, Texas. The 22-10 Aggies are seeded third and are ranked 22nd in the country by The Associated Press.
“We know that rebounding and overall height are challenges for us,’ said Forster. “Their guards are post-player height. We have to do what we’ve done all year and not change our style. We can’t be content with just being in the tournament.”
The Great Danes are extremely comfortable in their underdog role, but second-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is not satisfied with just showing up to be a sacrificial lamb for the powerful Aggies
“I told the players the same thing I told them when we got to Hartford for the America East tournament,” she said. “The baskets are the same and the court is the same. The uniforms are a little different, but that’s about it. This is a great forum for us. All we need to do is box out and handle their defensive pressure. They are taller and more athletic than us, and they are a little stronger. But our team is talented enough.”
The Great Danes will make one major change in their lineup. To offset the Aggies’ overall height advantage, 6-8 freshman Megan Craig, from Wangarei, New Zealand, will start at center, and Lindsey Lowrie, a strong three-point shooter, will come off the bench. Craig
averages only about 10 minutes and four points per game, but she has been an impact player in the last few outings.
“I can’t start four guards and Julie against Texas A&M,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They [the Aggies] have never seen a person like Megan before. She doesn’t get into foul trouble, because we’ve taught her to stand tall and not to move into the offensive player. She will be a neutralizer in the post for us. The key for Megan will be to play defense.”
Craig joins Forster, Ebone Henry, the America East Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the last two seasons and the Danes’ leading scorer at 14 points per game, Adrienne Jones and senior point guard Cassandra Callaway, UAlbany’s other double-digit scorer at just under 11 ppg., as starters.
Texas A&M counters with a balanced lineup that features four double-digit scorers: 6-0 senior guard Tyra White (13.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), 6-4 junior center Kelsey Bone (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), 6-1 senior forward Adaora Elonu (11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and 5-6 senior guard Sydney Carter (11.2 ppg).
“This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players, but when I was a player, I remembered the tough plays I made. I remember what I did, and not who we played,” said Abrahamson-Henderson.
“They know I believe in them. I never tell my players that they took a bad shot or don’t shoot it. That ruins their confidence.”
“We can’t go in there thinking we’re going to lose,” said Forster. “Coach is treating this like any other game. We have our scouting reports, and we know what we have to do.”