A rusty University at Albany women’s basketball team was severely tested by New Hampshire Sunday afternoon, but the Great Danes passed the test, thanks to some clutch performances by seniors Lindsey Lowrie and Julie Foster.
Lowrie scored 18 points, and Forster had 11 points to go along with 12 rebounds and two steals to spark the Great Danes to a 71-57 victory over the Wildcats in a game at SEFCU Arena that was much closer than the final score indicated.
UAlbany (26-3) hosts second-seeded Hartford Saturday night at 7 in the championship game. At stake will the Great Danes’ second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
With Maine pulling out of the America East Conference tournament because of a bus accident last week, the top-seeded Great Danes had a quarterfinal bye Friday, and when they took the court for their first game of the tourney, they looked out of sync. UAlbany shot just 36.7 percent from the floor in the first half, and the Danes’ much-heralded defense, which is among the nation’s best by allowing only 48.3 points per game, let the Wildcats shoot 50 percent from the field.
“Although I didn’t want to discuss it with the team, I think it hurt that we didn’t have that first tournament game under our belt,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “We had the jitters, and we were a little tight.”
UNH led by as much as four (24-20) with 5:59 left in the first half before a 10-0 UAlbany run gave the Great Danes a 30-24 lead right before intermission. The Great Danes led, 32-26, at the half.
Lowrie and Foster were the only Danes clicking in the first 20 minutes, as Ebone Henry, the America East Conference Co-Player of the Year, didn’t make a basket until there was 5:12 left in the game.
With Caylee Kilpatrick (17), Cari Reed (14) and Morgam Frame (11) combining for 42 points, the Wildcats kept hanging around and sliced their deficit to three, 52-49, when Kelsey Hogan drained a three-pointer with 5:39 left.
The resilient Danes used their bench to fend off the Wildcats, however, and when Lowie hit a driving layup with 2:37 remaining, UAlbany took a 58-51 lead. Lowrie and Henry combined for seven free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game, so I really wanted to win,” said Lowrie.
“We made an adjustment on Reed. We just put Ebone and Julie on her,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “I thought we did a good job on Reed and Frame in the second half. We did a good job on their key players, and we stuck together, no matter what happened.”
“I didn’t have my shooting game tonight, so I knew I had to drive to the basket and score from the line,” said Henry, who, despite shooting 1-for-8 from the floor, finished with 13 points.
“They [the Wildcats] are a three-point shooting team, and it’s hard to defend them,” said Henry.
New Hampshire head coach Maureen Magarity was proud of how her team made a run at the top-seeded Great Danes.
“Albany really has it going right now, but we executed our game plan,” Magarity said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our four seniors.”
“They had everything to lose, and we had nothing to lose,” said Reed. “We were expected to lose, but we came out with a lot of energy. I’m always thinking upset.
“We stopped Ebone on our senior night, so we knew we could do it. Obviously, if she’s having a tough shooting night, it makes it tougher for them to win.”
The Great Danes now have a week off before they take on perennial power Hartford, which pounded Vermont, 64-33, in the other semifinal.
“We are going to pretend that we haven’t played them before,” said Lowrie about Hartford, which took the Great Danes to overtime in one of their two previous meetings.
“It will be very exciting. The key for us is to focus on the boards. We are very excited to be playing Hartford,” added Forster.
Abrahamson-Henderson said she wants to put as little pressure as possible on her Great Danes, who have now won 18 straight games, including 16-0 in regular-season conference play.
“I want them to enjoy the journey all the time,” she said. “We need to stay focused on us. We’ll take a day off, and then we’ll focus on Hartford. Jen Rizzotti is a great coach, and this will be a great game for the America East Conference. These are two great programs. I have a lot of respect for the Hartford program.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE (57)
Frame 4-9 3-34 11, Gaston 0-3 0-0 0, Friel 1-3 0-0 2, Hogan 3-6 2-2 9, Reed 6-11 0-0 14, Belanger 0-1 2-2 2, Kilpatrick 7-12 3-3 17, Wells 0-4 0-0 0, Martenet 0-0 0-0 0, Spoto 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 22-50 10-11 57.
Forster 3-11 5-6 11, Keya. Williams 1-3 0-0 2, Royals 0-3 6-6 6, Henry 1-8 11-14 13, Lowrie 6-14 4-6 18, Rosario 1-2 1-2 3, Richards 5-7 1-3 11, Craig 2-4 3-4 7. Totals: 19-52 31-41 71.
Halftime: UAlbany, 32-26. Three-point goals: UNH 3-7 (Gaston 0-1, Hogan 1-2, Reed 2-3, Belanger 1-2); UAlbany 2-11 (Forster
0-1, Henry 0-3, Lowrie 2-7). Rebounds: UNH 31 (Frame 7), UAlbany 35 (Forster 12). Assists: UNH 15 (Frame 6), UAlbany 11 (Henry 3). Personal fouls: U NH 26, UAlbany 17 Fouled out: Frame, Gaston, Hogan. Officials: Michael Schmidt, Heather Browne, Fatou Cissoko-Stephens.