Rough home opener for UAlbany women’s basketball

These days in college basketball, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but whether you play the game.

The University at Albany women, whose previous game came three days before Christmas, returned to the court Saturday for a hastily arranged home opener. The America East did the Great Danes no favors, scheduling preseason conference favorite Maine to play at SEFCU Arena on 2½ days’ notice.

UAlbany scored the game’s first basket, but Maine answered with a six-point run and controlled the game throughout in a 66-48 victory.

“I was nervous before the game because we haven’t played so long,” said forward Lucia Decortes, who led UAlbany with 12 points and eight rebounds, “but after probably two minutes we got back to like the game that we always play.”

Maine (9-1, 6-1) was scheduled to play Vermont, but a positive COVID-19 test within the Catamounts’ program produced some shuffling. UAlbany (2-5, 1-2) was set to play on the road against the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but that all changed Wednesday night. Maine was sent to Albany, and NJIT played host to Hartford, whose series against Maryland-Baltimore County was postponed because of COVID concerns.

“They were just glad that we were playing,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said of her players. “We had thought that there may be a chance we weren’t going to play Vermont, just how they were out last week. Our players were just asking, well, if we don’t play Vermont, will we play a different team? They just want to play, It doesn’t matter where or who or what at this point.”

“On Wednesday after our practice, we find out the opponent has changed,” Danes coach Colleen Mullen said. “We’re constantly changing, constantly having to be flexible and to roll with the punches. I just I can’t say enough about how proud I am them.”

UAlbany came off a 10-day pause and returned to practice Sunday but hadn’t played a game since a 71-42 loss Dec. 22 at Fordham. The rust showed, particularly against a team such as Maine, which like to play up-tempo.

The Black Bears led the final 38:20 of the game, extending the margin to as many as 25 points, and forced the Danes into 22 turnovers.

“We were pressing and leaving our feet and just having turnovers that are not characteristic to us,” Mullen said, “but characteristic to a team that hasn’t had a lot of practice and hasn’t had a lot of time to work.”

The teams meet again at noon Sunday at SEFCU. UAlbany will have some positives to carry over.

The Danes outrebounded the Bears, 42-28. They got 24 minutes and six points from Fatima Lee, a Providence transfer able to play for the first time after the NCAA granted blanket eligibility to all transfers. Stella Popp, a freshman guard from Austria, debuted and scored her first collegiate basket.

“Albany, unfortunately, had been in quarantine, and they hadn’t been practicing for a while,” Vachon said. “It might take a little while to get into game shape the way they want to be in game shape. That played into part of it as well. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve been going for quite a while here. If you catch Albany in a couple weeks, you might see a different outcome in that area.”

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