UMaine women’s basketball team can learn from UAlbany’s winning formula

Albany's Sarah Royals (4) and Duke's Azura Stevens (11) go for a loose ball during the first half in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. (Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Albany’s Sarah Royals (4) and Duke’s Azura Stevens (11) go for a loose ball during the first half in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. (Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

The University at Albany came excruciatingly close to making history on Friday afternoon.
The four-time defending America East women’s basketball champions, seeded No. 13, flirted with an upset of No. 4 seed and 16th-ranked Duke — at Cameron Indoor Stadium — only to have a 3-pointer glance off the rim at the final horn. The Blue Devils, coached by former University of Maine coach Joanne P. McCallie, escaped with 54-52 victory.
A win would have made UAlbany the talk of the NCAA women’s tournament. It would have validated coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s program as more than just another mid-major wanna-be while inspiring players at that level to believe they can play with the big girls.
Instead, UAlbany’s inspired effort should provide further motivation for America East’s premier program, and inspiration for up-and-coming teams such as UMaine, Stony Brook and New Hampshire.
Hopefully, coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears were able to catch at least the end of Friday’s game from their Philadelphia hotel as they got ready to take on Villanova in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. There was much to be learned.
Unquestionably, UAlbany has talented players. Two-time America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards, the fearless Imani Tate and heady Sarah Royals are among the league’s best.
However, the reason the Great Danes’ performance stood out was because of the intangibles they demonstrated in taking a perennial top-10 program to the wire.
The first was UAlbany’s collective confidence. Despite the great challenge they faced, the Great Danes appeared to play aggressively and remain loose.
Even with Richards struggling at the offense amidst Duke’s huge frontcourt, she never stopped attacking and UAlbany found other players who were willing to step up. Even freshman post player Tiana-Jo Carter of Naples rose to the occasion, providing three points and 10 rebounds.
They also showed off relentless energy and hustle at the defensive end with good ball pressure and physical play in the paint against a much longer Duke team.
More than anything, UAlbany seems to possess an unshakable element of mental and physical toughness. The Great Danes never backed down and battled every possession, regardless of the time or score.
UAlbany competes with an unmistakable swagger, one derived in part from the competitiveness of its players. However, it also is a byproduct of the program’s tremendous success during the last four seasons.
These are all dynamics which UMaine should emulate.
The Black Bears are blessed with good players, plenty of experience and excellent team chemistry. But in order for them to take the next step and win a conference title, they will have to develop the intangibles.
UMaine needs to continue building its collective confidence, but more importantly must sacrifice some of its nice girl image and show a willingness to throw its weight around. The Black Bears have to be more physical and acquire the ability to have a killer instinct.
UAlbany will remain the team to beat in America East next season, while Stony Brook, New Hampshire and Hartford will join UMaine as threats to unseat the Great Danes. All the challengers, including the Black Bears, can learn a lot from UAlbany’s winning formula.

Pete Warner

About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 32 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.