ALBANY — Can’t skip any steps.
Even the bad ones.
That’s why University at Albany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen wasn’t discouraged with the steps her team took backwards in its loss last weekend against Vermont, a 13-point defeat that came after the Great Danes had won three of four games. The loss in those previous four games, too, perhaps represented UAlbany’s best game of the year, as the Great Danes took the Big Ten Conference’s Purdue down to the wire.
“But,” Mullen said after Friday’s practice, “I know that we’re going to have to take more steps back before we take even more steps forward.”
That patience is necessary for Mullen as she continues to navigate her first season leading UAlbany, a program whose past successes left UAlbany needing to hire its third head coach in four seasons. With the coaching turnover, UAlbany’s roster has taken hits; Mullen only has 11 players for this season, and a number of them have dealt — or are still dealing — with health woes.
“We have players with nagging injuries and we have a lot of players playing through pain,” Mullen said.
But before its loss at Vermont, Mullen said she felt UAlbany had “turned a corner” in its development. The defense has been there for the Great Danes all season, and the offense showed signs of life as they won three of four games.
“Our main focus is on being together. We don’t harp on our losses or our mistakes,” UAlbany sophomore Kyara Frames said. “There’s a lot of learning going on right now.”
“We just have to be humble and hungry. Coach always says that,” UAlbany senior Heather Forster said. “We’re a good team and our record doesn’t necessarily say that, but nothing is going to be given to us. We’re not just going to just walk in and win any game. We have to actually be hungry and go after it every day.”
On the road at 1 p.m. Saturday, UAlbany (1-1, 4-11) has to go after perhaps the top team in the America East Conference in a Maine (3-0, 10-6) program that won last year’s conference championship after the Great Danes won the prior six.
UAlbany is coming off a 52-39 loss against Vermont, a contest in which the Great Danes held their opponent scoreless in the second quarter. UAlbany, though, shot 16 of 71 for the game and was unable to manufacture enough offense to make its strong defensive game result in a victory. On the season, UAlbany has only averaged 50.9 points per game on 34.7 percent shooting as previously unproven Great Danes have had to take on significant offensive roles for the inexperienced team.
“And that takes bravery and courage,” Mullen said. “What happens [for us offensively] is when you’re not having fluidity in your offense — when you’re not having pace and space and ball movement — you have a tendency to take bad shots because you’re pressing or because the shot clock is winding down. [Fixing] that just comes with chemistry. These players have never really played together.”
Earlier this season, UAlbany went through a seven-game losing streak. Five of those defeats came in games decided by three or fewer possessions, contests that Mullen said helped her team grow as it prepared for conference play.
We had a lot of close games, and our players hadn’t been in those situations before,” Mullen said. “We learned a lot from them.”
The top lesson?
“We know anything is possible if we play our best game,” Forster said.