THE GREATEST AMERICA EAST BASKETBALL DYNASTY: UAlbany Women’s Basketball Earns Fifth Straight League Title, Defeating Maine in 59-58 Thriller at SEFCU

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ALBANY, N.Y. – The UAlbany women’s basketball team has etched its place in America East history by becoming the first basketball team ever in the league to win five consecutive conference tournament titles, winning a 59-58 back and forth thriller over Maine at the SEFCU Arena for the 2016 league championship on Friday.

In addition, UAlbany (27-4) is just the 16th basketball program in NCAA history to win five consecutive tournament titles.

With the victory, UAlbany has earned the America East automatic qualifier in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.  The Great Danes will find out where they are going on the ESPN selection show on Monday, March 14th at 7 p.m.

Before today’s contest, UAlbany had been just the second America East women’s basketball team with four consecutive tournament titles.  Now the Great Danes stand alone as the only basketball team in America East history with five straight.

Down by seven during the third quarter, UAlbany rallied to tie in the third but trailed after that period to Maine (26-8).  Down five with 8:06 left, UAlbany put together a 12-3 run and held off a Maine team that hit two late three-point shots.  With 2.6 seconds left, UAlbany’s man-to-man defense helped force Maine’s final shot to go wide.

“A lot of great things to say about Maine, they came in here fighting, a lot of credit to them,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who has been at the helm for all five of the program’s league titles. “I’m very proud of our team, they were down by five at halftime, and they fought back.  Down the stretch, they got down a bit, and the fought through this.  They are warriors.”

Shereesha Richards had another great game for UAlbany, leading the Great Danes with 31 points.  Including 32 against Vermont and 33 against Binghamton earlier in the tournament, Richards was named the America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player for the third consecutive season.  Her 96 points is the second-most in America East Tournament history.

Richards nearly had a double-double with her 31 points, adding nine rebounds.  She passed the 2,400-point mark in her career, standing with 2,403 points currently, to move into third in America East women’s basketball history in scoring.

“A lot of times in my head, I want to pass it off, but I know I need to score,” said Richards. “To be honest, I didn’t notice the triple and double teams.  I felt like I was open.”

Imani Tate also earned a place on the All-Tournament Team, earning 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists in this game.  She had the second most assists in an America East Tournament with 23, totaling 45 points and 10 steals.  Zakiya Saunders earned six points and four assists.

For Maine, Sigi Koizar got 15 points, including the game’s final basket from three with 55 seconds remaining.  Mikaela Gustafsson concluded with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists while Liz Wood finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

UAlbany looked to go into the paint early, countering a Wood layup with two of its own against Maine pressure.  Maine did the same as Gustafsson scored a quick four points as the sides were tied 6-6 in the opening five minutes.

Maine took the lead off a Wood three and a couple of free throws.  With Maine up 11-8, a long jumper by Tate was followed by two fast break sprints for UAlbany, with each turning into Richards layups.  UAlbany took the lead off that 6-0 run and had a 14-12 advantage after one.

UAlbany guarded the perimeter and the paint, keeping Maine to one field goal in the opening three minutes of the second.  UAlbany continued to go into the paint and went on a 7-2 sprint, capped by a Richards long jumper up top of the arc, to go up 21-14.

Maine called a timeout and responded with a run of its own.  At 23-17, Bella Swan hit a pair of jumpers from just outside the paint to start a run.  Gustafsson and Chantel Charles added more jumpers, then a deep three by Koizar capped an 11-0 run, giving Maine a 28-23 lead at halftime.

Richards immediately came out of halftime with a layup to pull UAlbany within a possession.  Maine got the next two baskets to lead by seven as Richards kept hitting baskets to try to pull UAlbany closer.  A Richards layup made it 34-31 Maine with 4:30 left in the 3rd.

After Maine repaired the lead to five, Erin Coughlin hit a three on a 5-0 run to tie the game at 36.  Maine struck back by using the lane, with Koizar hitting a layup on a fast break to give the visitors a 41-38 advantage after three quarters.

Maine kept its lead early in the fourth, countering UAlbany’s free throws with made baskets.  Wood hit a deep three on a pass from Koizar, with the latter adding a jumper to give the Black Bears a 47-43 advantage with just under eight minutes left.

Tate ran down the baseline to hit a layup, then after UAlbany protected against a three-point attempt, Saunders hit the mid-range jumper to tie the game at 47.  With the crowd getting loud, Charles hit a jumper in the paint to push Maine back ahead 49-47.

UAlbany took its first lead since the second quarter after jumpers from Richards and Tate put the Great Danes up 51-49.  Following a Gustafsson free throw, Tate quickly hit a layup down the baseline, with Richards adding free throws on the next possession to a 55-50 UAlbany lead.  UAlbany countered a Koizar layup with two more Richards free throws to go up 57-52.

Maine was not finished and starting firing from beyond the arc.  Lauren Bodine buried a shot up top of the arc to pull Maine within two with 1:37 left.  On UAlbany’s next chance, Richards hit a layup to put the game back at two possessions.  15 seconds later, Koizar hit the three-point shot from the wing to pull Maine within one with 55 seconds left.

UAlbany drained the shot clock but did not score on Tate’s jumper, seeing Bodine rebound and call a timeout.  Koizar’s shot fell short, and UAlbany got the deadball rebound.

Following a Maine flagrant foul and two missed free throws, the UAlbany inbounds pass did not touch a player and went out of bounds, giving the ball back to Maine with 2.6 seconds left.  The ball was inbounded to Gustafsson, who’s jump shot missed wide right.  The clock expired as UAlbany earned the 59-58 victory.

UAlbany defeated Vermont and Binghamton in earlier action of the America East Tournament.

The All-Tournament team was rounded out by Wood, Koizar and Stony Brook’s Brittany Snow.

 

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