Women's Basketball Advances To Sixth-Straight America East Title Game; Defeats #6 Hartford 67-65
PORTLAND, Maine – The University at Albany women’s basketball team (20-11, 12-4 AE) found itself in another America East semifinal Sunday afternoon, this time against tournament #6 Hartford (17-14, 7-9 AE). Saturday night the Great Danes defeated tournament #7 Vermont by 20 points to earn a berth into the program’s sixth straight America East semifinal.
After holding a 10 point lead for most of the game, UAlbany saw Hartford claw back to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, only to hold on to win by two, 67-65.
“I really think this was a team win,” said head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “An ugly win, but a team win. You can see we’re a bit of an up-and-down team, even in a game like tonight, but I think we’re coming along at the right time.”
UAlbany started better Sunday than they had against Vermont in the quarterfinals. Hartford scored first, and the game was tied at four at the mid-way point of the first quarter before a quick 4-0 run from the Great Danes that gave UAlbany an 8-4 lead. After Hartford scored to stop the run, UAlbany hit three consecutive three pointers, two from senior Bailey Hixson and one from redshirt-junior Jessica Féquière, to take a 17-9 lead with 3:21 remaining in the first.
Another three from Féquière gave UAlbany a 12 point lead with less than one minute remaining in the quarter. When the first horn sounded UAlbany held a 23-13 lead. Hixson and Féquière had each accounted for eight of UAlbany’s 23 points. Junior Tiana-Jo Carter had scored four points off the bench in five minutes of play.
The second quarter played out evenly, with both teams scoring 11 points through the first six minutes of play. Hartford scored five quick points with three minutes remaining in the half to cut the lead to five. UAlbany responded with four points of its own to bring the lead back to nine. After Féquière hit another three-pointer, the lead stretched back to 10.
At halftime, UAlbany led 43-36. Féquière led the Great Danes in scoring with 13 points, and Hixson followed with 11. Hixson also led the team with five rebounds, and freshman Mackenzie Trpcic led with seven assists. Hixson and Féquière had each shot 3-4 from three.
The Great Danes led the Hawks 20-14 in points in the paint, 8-4 in fast break points, and 10-7 in bench points. Hartford led 11-8 in points off of turnovers, and the teams tied 7-7 in second chance points. As a team, UAlbany had double-up on Hartford in rebounding, 20-10.
Hixson hit two more threes at the start of the second half, helping bring UAlbany’s lead back to 10 points. The lead held around 10 for most of the quarter until Hartford started inching back late, cutting the lead to seven. At the end of the quarter, UAlbany led 55-48.
By the end of the third quarter three Great Danes, Féquière, Hixson, and Carter, had scored in double figures. Senior Imani Tate was right behind them with nine points.
Hartford cut the lead to four at the start of the fourth quarter with a three point of an inbounds play from underneath the UAlbany basket. Hartford cut the lead to two with eight minutes remaining. Hixson responded with her sixth three pointer of the night to bring the lead back to five.
Hartford tied the game with 5:51 remaining in the quarter. Hixson hit a layup right away on the other end to give UAlbany a two point lead and set a new career-high with 22 points. The Great Dane defense forced a turnover on the ensuing Hartford possession. Tate hit one of two free throws after getting fouled to bring the lead to three.
With a chance to bring the game within one, Hartford missed two free throws, but then forced a turnover on the ensuing UAlbany possession. The Hawks took advantage, hitting a layup a few seconds later to cut the lead to one.
“One of the big things we said is don’t panic” said Coach Mac. “When they started to come back I think there were about six and a half minutes left, and that’s a lot of time. We just had to continue to play steady. Two things were going to win us this game, and those were rebounding and not turning the ball over, and we did one of the two. Luckily, we rebounded the ball extremely well compared to the last time we played Hartford.”
After a circus shot from Trpcic as the shot clock expired, Hartford hit a quick three to tie the game at 63 with just over three minutes remaining. Carter then hit a layup on the other end.
Tate hit a jumper from the right side to give UAlbany a four point lead with less than two minutes to go.
Trpcic launched a three as the shot clock expired, missing off the side of the rim. Hixson grabbed the offensive rebound but could not come down cleanly and traveled, giving Hartford the ball down two with 28.1 seconds remaining.
With 8.7 seconds left, Féquière tied up the ball on a Hartford drive, giving UAlbany possession still up two. Tate received the inbounds play and was quickly fouled. She missed both free throws, and Hartford grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 6.0 seconds remaining.
The Great Danes locked down on defense for the final six seconds, forcing Hartford into an off-balance three pointer which missed long. UAlbany won the game 67-65.
Hixson led the team with a career-high 22 points, including career-high 6-11 from three. Féquière had 13, and Carter and Tate each added 12. Féquière led the team with 10 rebounds, and Trpcic led with eight assists.
UAlbany outscored Hartford 26-23 in points in the paint, 11-7 in second chance points, and 10-9 in fast break points. Hartford held advantages of 27-15 in points off of turnovers and 18-16 in bench points. As a team, UAlbany nearly doubled Hartford in rebounding, 39-21.
Next, UAlbany will host the America East final at SEFCU Arena against tournament #4 Maine on Friday, March 10 at 4:30 p.m. Maine defeated tournament #1 New Hampshire in the earlier semifinal game, 61-52.
“Maine has a plethora of great freshmen,” said Coach Mac, “and they’re led by Koizar at the one, and she does a great job of pushing the ball and finding the open person. They spread the ball very well offensively with players who know how to read defenses. They really got us on the basket cuts the first time we played them, but I thought we adjusted well to that when they came to our place.”
It will be the second consecutive year that UAlbany has hosted Maine in the America East title game.