When the University at Albany women’s basketball team entered its Carrier Dome locker room Friday trailing its first-round NCAA game against Florida by 14, coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson had one question for them.
“Are you quitting?”
It was a good question.
“It’s not over,” she told her team, despite trailing 36-22. “It’s never over. It’s never over.”
Despite all appearances, it wasn’t.
The No. 12 Danes, who outscored the No. 5 Gators 14-10 in the first quarter, got shellacked 24-8 in the second, largely because star Shereesha Richards sat with uncharacteristic foul trouble.
“A lot of emotions, I’m not going to lie,” Richards said. “A lot of the calls were ridiculous.”
Not only is the three-time America East Player of the Year UAlbany’s leading scorer and rebounder, but she was critical to the Danes breaking the Gators’ press. Without her off the floor, the Danes didn’t stand much of a chance, so it seemed.
And when Richards fouled out with 6:18 to play in the fourth quarter and the Danes still trailing 57-50, the deficit seemed too much for the five-time America East champions to overcome.
But not to the Danes.
“When she fouled out,” Abrahamson-Henderson said, her team’s “whole mood changed.”
As clichéd as it sounds, if Richards wasn’t going to win it for them, for once they would win it for the senior Richards.
“We couldn’t let her go out like that,” junior Imani Tate said.
So they didn’t. Tate scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and the Danes roared back without their leader to upset Florida 61-59 to register the program’s first NCAA Tournament win of its Division I era, which began in 1999-2000.
At the very moment the Danes (28-4) seemingly should have collapsed, they became a defensive whirlwind reminiscent of the start of the game, when the first six Gators possessions ended in five turnovers and a tied-up ball.
“When Richards went out, they played harder,” Florida forward Haley Lorenzen said. “Give them a lot of credit for that.”
Florida, bigger and taller and deeper — they played 12 players, 11 of them logging at least 7 minutes — seemed like the team that was exhausted at the end. The Gators, paced by Eleanna Christinaki’s 11 points, were held far below their 78 points-per-game average. Florida only shot 35.2 percent from the field.
“Our defense really did it,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
Florida coach Amanda Butler said the Gators (22-9) didn’t lose because they took the foot off the gas with Richards out.
“I don’t think we relaxed. We had great respect for this team,” she said. “It was just a matter of poor execution on both ends of the floor.”
Richards scored 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting in only 22 minutes. Even on the bench, especially in the waning minutes, she loomed large.
“We were playing for Albany, We were playing for the Great Danes,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “But in the last six minutes, they were playing for Shereesha Richards.”
YOU’RE UP, ROOK: With both Richards and Tiana-Jo Carter in foul trouble, freshman forward Heather Forster was pressed into 19 minutes of service, mostly to play interior defense. She took only one shot and made it — the basket that put the Danes ahead 58-57 — and for good — with 1:47 to play.
UP NEXT: UAlbany will play Sunday at the Carrier Dome against host and fourth-seeded Syracuse, which drilled Army in the second first-round game Friday 73-56. Sunday’s tip is to be determined.
SCORE CONFUSION: There was confusion after the game over the most basic element of an athletic contest: The final score. In the end, the 61-59 score stood as official. But the final score was actually 61-58. The scoresheet, delayed two hours, came with an explanation:
“The final official score . . . remains 61-59 based on the final progressive team totals of the official scorebook, even though the final statistics indicate 61-58. The mistake was made by the official scorer in awarding a free throw to Florida that did not occur.” All three referees left before the error was caught, meaning the wrong progressive final score, which does not affect the outcome, stands.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Sunday game will air regionally on ESPN 2, and air locally on WOFX (980 AM).
Richards 7-10 0-0 14, Edwards 1-3 0-0 2, Coughlin 3-7 0-0 7, Tate 9-20 10-14 28, Saunders 2-6 0-0 4, Aiyalogbe 0-0 0-0 0, Forster 1-1 0-2, Carter 2-3 0-2 4. Totals 25-50 10-16 61
Lorenzen 4-6 0-0 8, Williams 2-6 6-6 10, Needles 0-5 0-0 0, Anderson 0-1 2-2 2, Christinaki 3-11 4-6 11, Young 0-1 0-0 0, Miller 3-5 3-5 10, Peoples 2-7 0-0 5, Westbrook 3-8 0-0 7, Copeland, 0-1 1-2 1, Fleming 1-1 1-3 3, Batchelor 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 19-54 17-24 58.
Albany 14 8 20 19 — 61
Florida 12 24 15 7 — 58
Three-point goals: UAlbany 1-4 (Coughlin 1-4); Florida 3-19 (Needles 0-4, Christinaki 1-5, Young 0-1, Peoples 1-4, Westbroook 1-3, Copeland 0-1, Batchelor 0-1). Rebounds: UAlbany 28 (Tate 8); Florida 39 (Williams, Fleming, Team 7). Assists: UAlbany 12 (Tate 4); Florida 11 (four players with 2). Total fouls: UAlbany 20; Florida 19.