A season of adjustments continues today for the University at Albany women’s basketball team, which is hoping a few tweaks to its game plan will result in an upset of second-seeded West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The 28-4 Great Danes tip off at 3 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La. They are appearing in their third straight NCAA tournament.
West Virginia (29-4) captured its first-ever Big 12 regular-season title and then picked up an at-large bid to the NCAAs after losing in its tournament.
UAlbany is attempting to win its first NCAA tournament game after coming up short the last two years.
“We know how to adjust,” said 6-foot-9 junior center Megan Craig, who is not only the tallest player in UAlbany women’s basketball history but one of the tallest players in the nation this year. “I like adjusting to different defenses. In fact, our entire team adjusted this year after losing so many players to graduation last year. We know other teams are going to try to stop Shereesha Richards and myself.”
This year’s version of the Great Danes stretched their America East Conference regular-season winning streak to 38 games before the string was ended by Stony Brook in the final game of the season. The Danes got revenge by beating the Seawolves in the AE tournament championship game.
But this year’s team played without three of the program’s all-time best players in Ebone Henry (all-time leading scorer), Julie Forster (all-time leading rebounder) and Lindsay Lawrie (one of the Danes’ all-time leading three-point shooters), who all graduated.
So, instead of having Craig and Richards come off the bench, they both started, along with junior guard Sarah Royals, who split time with Erin Coughlin, senior Tammy Phillip and junior Margarita Rosario.
“Anyone can win a game in this tournament,” said Craig (12.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), who hails from Whangarei, New Zealand. “Obviously, as the 15th seed, we know we’re not expected to beat West Virginia, but we’ve seen them play before, and we know what to expect from them.”
West Virginia was in the same bracket as UAlbany during last year’s NCAA tournament game against North Carolina in Delaware.
One of the keys to the game will be if Richards is able to produce in the paint. The America East Conference Player of the Year and tournament MVP led the league in scoring (20.2 ppg), rebounding (9.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (.628).
“It’s a different time of the year when the NCAA tournament begins,” Richards said with a smile. “But I’m not the kind of person who gets rattled. All I can do is play my own game. I know I have a target on my back, but I also have good teammates. If they double- or triple-team me and Megan, our guards will have to get the job done.”
“Now it should be fun,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, the league’s Coach of the Year three seasons in a row. “They will probably be overlooking us, and we like that. We enjoy being the underdogs.”
West Virginia is paced by Bria Holmes (15.1 ppg), Asya Bussie (13.0 ppg), Christal Caldwell (10.1 ppg) and Taylor Palmer (10.1 ppg). The Mountaineers, coached by Mike Carey, average 73.9 ppg.
Abrahamson-Henderson has faced West Virginia before in the postseason, when she led Missouri State to the 2005 WNIT championship.