ORONO — The University of Albany women’s basketball team couldn’t have been much hotter in the first half of Friday’s America East Championship game. Although the Great Danes cooled off, the University of Maine never warmed up and Albany cruised to a 56-47 victory to win the conference title in front of 1,329 raucous fans at a sold-out Memorial Gym.
“We knew the environment was going to be very loud, but we just had to stick together,” said Albany guard Kayla Cooper, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after scoring eight points and grabbing 12 rebounds. during victory.
Albany shot 52 percent in the first half (13 of 25), including 7 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc. While the Great Danes sometimes spat offensively in the second half, the Black Bears never caught up enough ground.
The win gave Albany (23-9) its seventh conference title and first since 2017, when the Great Danes won the last of six straight America East crowns. Albany will learn Sunday night where he plays in the NCAA Tournament after winning the conference’s automatic bid.
The loss ended Maine’s 14-game winning streak. As regular-season conference champions, the Black Bears (20-11) will receive an invite to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
When the Great Danes practiced in an empty Memorial Gym on Thursday, they turned on loud music to get a feel for the game-time volume (“Pop, and whatever those guys like,” said the Albany coach Colleen Mullen). Albany handled Maine’s defensive pressure better than they did in the two regular season losses to the Black Bears, and with that, the Great Danes were able to slow play and wait for a good shot on most possessions. Albany never trailed in the game and led 20-12 after the first quarter.
“It was so important for us to go out with confidence. We knew the pressure all over the pitch was something that really had a big effect on us,” Mullen said. “Just being able to control the tempo and to score, it gave us a lot of confidence.”
Maine coach Amy Vachon said the first quarter was important.
“For them to score 20 points is a lot of points to give up for us. We wanted to make them uncomfortable and I don’t think we did enough in that first quarter,” Vachon said. “Look, it’s not an easy place to play, and they came out on fire. They hit the shots that were open.
Down 38-32 early in the fourth quarter, Maine cut Albany’s lead to five points, 45-40, when Olivia Rockwood stole on an inbound pass and passed to Anne Simon for a layup with 2:32 to go. Albany’s Ellen Hahne scored 3 with 1:23 remaining to push back the Great Danes lead to eight points, 49-41.
Although Albany managed a 10-minute streak with a single field goal in the second half, Maine couldn’t take advantage of it. For the game, Maine shot just 33.9 percent (18 for 53) from the floor. Maine’s top two players — America East Player of the Year Simon and all-conference pick Maeve Carroll — shot 9-for-28.
“We just had a bad evening of filming. I didn’t do layups like I normally do. We didn’t hit from the outside like we normally do,” Carroll said.
The Great Danes led 34-24 at halftime, sparked by a fiery shot from Morgan Haney, who was 6 for 9 from the field in the half, including 4 for 4 on 3-point attempts. She scored 16 of her game and a career-high 20 points before halftime. Albany also dominated the boards in the first half, grabbing 17 rebounds to Maine’s eight, and finished with a 34-27 advantage on the glass.
“I think I was just completely focused going into this game. There was nothing I was going to let hold me back,” Haney said.
Simon led the Black Bears with 15 points, while Caroline Bornemann added 13.
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