The University at Albany women’s basketball team is angry — from top to bottom.
After seeing their record conference winning streak snapped at 38 games in the season finale Saturday at Stony Brook, the top-seeded Great Danes are refocused in their attempt to win their third consecutive America East Conference tournament championship this weekend.
The journey begins tonight at 6, when UAlbany hosts Binghamton in the first round at SEFCU Arena.
UAlbany (15-1 America East, 25-4 overall) appeared so dominant all season long, especially in conference play, that the Great Danes were considered a lock to run through the season unbeaten. Last weekend’s surprising loss changed all that, and it put a spark into the Danes.
“Mama Bear is disappointed. They [the Great Danes] don’t like that,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who admitted that the practice sessions this week were even tougher than normal.
“I never forget losses,” she said. “I try to get them [her players] to let it go, but to never forget. We’re not perfect. I think [the loss] makes them a little bit more edgy.”
Abrahamson-Henderson said the Great Danes didn’t play their usual tough brand of defense against Stony Brook, and they experimented a little bit.
“Our defense wasn’t what it normally was against Stony Brook. We made some adjustments,” she said. “But now we’re going back to basics. We’re going back to stage one. It’s all about defense with our team, and we’re going to do what we do best. We’ve got to get back in the flow and be more aggressive.”
To make another successful tournament run, UAlbany needs to have a more dominant performance from sophomore forward Shereesha Richards, who led the America East Conference in both scoring (20.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.2 rpg). She was also the league’s player of the week a record nine times, but she slowed down in the final third of the season as teams began to double- and triple-team her in the post.
“It’s championship time,” Richards said. “The Stony Brook game is in the past. We know that all eyes are obviously on us. We know we’ve been the team to beat for the last two years.”
Richards said she relishes the role of top dog, and doesn’t feel any added pressure.
“Who wouldn’t want to be the No. 1 seed? Every team has a go-to player, and I’m used to it. I’ve been getting more double- and triple-teaming, but we will make adjustments. Other players can score on this team,” Richards said.
Megan Craig, the team’s 6-foot-9 junior center who averages 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, agreed with Richards that UAlbany has more than one or two scoring threats.
“We need to come out and be better focused for this game against Binghamton. We can’t wait to make adjustments in the second half,” she said. “We knew that a loss would eventually come, but the key for us is to play as hard as we can and set the tempo. If the starters play hard and build up a good lead, then our bench can come in and help us out. It’s obvious that Reesie [Richards] and I are the crucial players on offense that other teams focus on, but we also have some very good guards that can also shoot.”
UAlbany had no problems with the Bearcats (2-14, 5-24) during the regular season, as they posted a 66-36 win at Binghamton and an 86-35 thrashing at SEFCU Arena.
Sophomore guard Erin Coughlin averages 6.6 points and has connected on 54 three-pointers this year. Junior point guard Margarita Rosario adds 6.9 ppg and leads the conference in free-throw shooting at 83.1 percent.
Senior Tammy Phillip (7.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) has 11 double-digit rebounding games this year, while junior guard Sarah Royals is the team’s third-leading scorer at 11.4 ppg. Formerly a starter, Royals now comes off the bench. She is only three assists shy of the UAlbany single-season assist record (136).
Binghamton is led by junior forward Sherae Swinson (9.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), senior guard Vanesshia Paulk (8.8 ppg) and senior guard Stephanie Jensen (5.4 ppg, 2.8 assists), who is the team’s primary three-point shooter.
The semifinals are set for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the championship game slated for Monday at 4 p.m.