Don’t be surprised if freshman guard Imani Tate makes an impact off the bench in her NCAA tournament debut.
She might have to if the 15th-seeded University at Albany Great Danes (28-4) have any chance of pulling an upset over second-seeded West Virginia in the opening round Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.
It’s no secret that UAlbany opponents have been trying to neutralize the Danes’ “twin towers” of 6-foot-9 junior center Megan Craig and 6-1 sophomore forward Shereesha Richards, the America East Conference Player of the Year. That means the Danes’ backcourt has been and will continue to be under tremendous pressure to produce.
Freshmen don’t usually play large roles in the NCAAs, especially subs, but it’s been a rite of passage during the Danes’ three straight trips to the Big Dance. Craig was a factor in the tournament two years ago as a rookie coming off the bench, and Richards did the same a year ago as the conference’s rookie of the year. Could this be Tate’s turn?
“Imani will get into the game. Several of the freshmen will,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson after Thursday’s last practice session before leaving today on a charter plane. “This game will be intense and fast. Imani has to be ready to go. We could get into foul trouble, and we might need a lot of our bench players to produce.”
The UAlbany coach expects a pressing West Virginia to challenge her backcourt.
“We need to get open on the wings. Our guards will struggle because they haven’t seen that kind of pressure before. We need to set screens to get them open. There definitely will be pressure on our guards,” she said.
Tate averages only about four points a game but had several offensive outbursts in the second half of the season, scoring double figures four times, including a career-best 18 against Binghamton in the opening round of the AE tournament. She’s deadly with the mid-range pull-up jumper and also excels slashing through the lane. That’s how she averaged 25 points a game as a senior at Bishop Loughlin in the Bronx. She was ranked 45th in the nation among guards in ESPN’s class of 2017.
“I’m ready to play,” said the 5-foot-8 soft-spoken rookie. “Coach told me that my primary role will be to play good defense. But offensively, I know that in order to free up the post I’ve got to hit a few jump shots. That’s my best shot, and I’ve been working on it a lot. But I also like to drive to the basket and feel very comfortable doing that. “
Tate said she won’t be timid. She realizes that she is well down the list on opponents’ scouting reports.
“I’ll keep shooting as long as Coach wants me to,” she said. “I’ll probably be a little nervous, but I’m looking forward to this. It should be a lot of fun. “
If backcourt mates Sarah Royals, Margarita Rosarario and Erin Coughlin can’t make shots, Tate is more than ready to add her brand of instant offense in the Big Dance.