12-Seed UAlbany Women’s Basketball Earns Historic First NCAA Tournament Victory, Storms Back to Take Down 5-Seed Florida 61-59 to Advance to Second Round
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – With 6:18 left and a seven point deficit, the 12-seed UAlbany women’s basketball team saw its three-time league Player of the Year foul out. UAlbany did not back down and continued its rally, coming back to defeat 5-seed Florida 61-59 for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament Division I victory.
UAlbany (28-4) advances to the NCAA Second Round and will take on regional site host Syracuse, a 4-seed, in the Carrier Dome on Sunday at a time to be announced.. Syracuse defeated 13-seed Army West Point 73-56 in the later game.
After five conference championships, the UAlbany women’s basketball program has its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in the DI era. It is the first NCAA Tournament victory in any division for UAlbany women’s basketball since 1992.
"I was very very proud,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “I just asked them at halftime if they were quitting. Because it’s not over, it’s never over, and we’ve been in a lot of tight games like this. We played Tennessee, USC and our conference championship game were all tight games. I just say to them all the time it’s never over.
UAlbany was down 17 in the second quarter and 11 in the fourth, with Shereesha Richards fouling out with 6:18 left to play. Using defense, quick strike offense and key free throw shooting, UAlbany surged ahead and continued its 15-0 run through a span of 7:30 and grabbed the upset victory over Florida (24-9) in the Carrier Dome.
“Shereesha has done so much for us in every game that she plays, and we just knew that we had to do something for her and get her another game in a UAlbany uniform,” said Erin Coughlin.
Officially down 15 at the half, UAlbany’s rally saw the Great Danes outscore Florida 19-5 in the final quarter. UAlbany shot 50% from the field and held Florida to 35.2%, including 15.8% from three.
It is just the fourth time since 2011 that a team seeded 12 or lower has won a game in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Imani Tate had a huge game with 28 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists, with 11 points coming in the fourth quarter.
“I think our defense led to our offense and we started playing harder,” said Tate. “They (Florida) didn’t shoot as many threes as they would have liked to and as they kept missing shots we got rebounds. The offense carried over and things started opening up for us.”
Richards finished the game with 14 points off 7-of-10 shooting while Coughlin had seven points and three steals. Tiana-Jo Carter and Heather Forster each had key baskets in the final minutes of the game to seal the victory.
For Florida, Eleanna Christinaki scored 11 points and added five rebounds. Ronni Williams had 10 points and seven boards while January Miller also had 10 points.
UAlbany immediately used a pressure zone to attack Florida. Including two early steals from Tate, Richards led the play in the paint with an opening 6-0 run for the Great Danes in the first three minutes.
Florida tried to shoot quickly on its possessions, as Christinaki got four quick points off a long range jumper and free throws. The UAlbany defense held its ground in the paint as Carter knocked away a shot from a runner in the lane and Richards drew a charge.
Tate led the offense in the next couple of possessions, as Richards added a jumper. UAlbany used the shot clock on most possessions as Tate added more free throws to get a 14-8 lead with 1:30 left in the 1st. Richards picked her up her second foul and Florida added two baskets as UAlbany led 14-12 after one quarter.
After Florida tied the game, Carter put in a layup and stole a pass the other way. Florida continued to run and shoot quickly, leading to seven straight points, capped by a steal and score from Miller. The run continued as Florida drew contact and hit free throws, extending the run to 14-0 over a span of over 5:30.
Richards came back in with two fouls and stopped the run with a turnaround jumper just outside the paint. UAlbany managed to trade baskets in the later minutes of the second but trailed 36-22 at the half.
On the first half of the second half, Coughlin ran around a screen and hit a jumper. Later, Tate rebounded a Florida miss, heaved down to Richards for the score to pull UAlbany within 38-28 a couple minutes into the 3rd.
The UAlbany defense rebounded and drew charges to get the ball back. After a Richards layup, Tate kicked out to Coughlin behind her for the top of the arc three to continue the streak to 9-2, making it 39-31 Florida with 6:58 left in the 3rd.
UAlbany again pulled to within eight as the two sides kept exchanging Great Danes baskets for Florida free throws. Foul trouble continued for UAlbany as Richards and Carter picked up their fourth foul each in the closing minutes of the 3rd. Tate scored points down the stretch to pull UAlbany within nine after three as Florida led 51-42.
Tate continued to lead the shooting into the fourth quarter, hitting the team’s first two baskets, including a steal and score from halfcourt. UAlbany’s defense started to hold on Florida possessions as the Great Danes chipped away to five down 56-52 at the final media of the 4th.
With a whole new team on the floor for Florida, UAlbany continued to hold as Tate drew contact and hit free throws. Two possessions later, Coughlin forced a steal, shook a defender underneath and hit a layup to tie the game.
As the UAlbany faithful cheered on the Great Danes, Forster pulled down a rebound off Christinaki’s missed layup. The other way, Carter drew a double team, found Forster who put in the layup to give UAlbany the 58-56 lead.
Williams missed a layup attempt for Florida as Tate pulled in the rebound, drew contact on offense and hit a free throw. Again the UAlbany zone defense held as Christinaki missed and Zakiya Saunders grabbed the board.
UAlbany called a timeout. Saunders ran into the paint in the closing seconds of the shot clock, missing short. Florida tried to grab the ball before it went out of bounds, with Carter grabbing it and putting in the layup to make it a two-possession game. Florida scored with 0.6 seconds left, but UAlbany held for the historic win.
Note: The final stats had UAlbany winning 61-58 over Florida. However, since the official book had 61-59, that is the official final score. The extra point for Florida came in the second quarter of play.