America East Tournament – Women’s Championship Game Preview
Yesterday, I broke down the America East men's championship game between the UAlbany Great Danes and Vermont Catamounts. Now it's time to take a look at the women's title game between the Great Danes and Hartford Hawks.
The prohibitive favorite heading into Saturday night's game at SEFCU Arena is Albany, who come into the only game standing in the way of a second straight NCAA Tournament berth, at 26-3, with a 17-0 conference record.
However, this game is going to be closer than a lot of people think, regardless of how impressive UAlbany's statistics have been this season.
First of all, UAlbany looked sluggish at home in the America East semifinals against New Hampshire, with the score within single digits for much of the game, which was uncharacteristic of a team that has pulled off more 20 point wins than single digit wins this year. Hartford won't be as merciful as the Wildcats if the Danes come out flat. Expect this to be a point of emphasis from coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson when the team takes the court this weekend.
Hartford is a team that boasts four talented seniors in Daphne Elliot, Nikkia Smith, Ruthanne Doherty, and Alex Hall who can match Albany seniors Ebone Henry, Julie Forster, Lindsay Lowrie and Keyana Williams shot for shot.
In fact, Hartford's seniors account for 31.5 points per game combined, which is good for 54% of their 58.0 points per game, the same percentage as UAlbany. This, of course, means that whichever group of seniors can neutralize their counterparts the best will have a huge advantage in this contest.
In their two matchups this season, UAlbany won the senior scoring battle both times, 26-17 in an overtime win at SEFCU Arena and 31-23 in a 69-55 victory at Hartford's Chase Family Arena.
Also key in the Danes two wins over the Hawks this season was the fact that UAlbany had a combined rebounding margin of +20 in those two games, including 31 offensive rebounds. If Hartford wants to knock off the defending champions, they are going to need to limit the second chance opportunities that Albany gets.
One huge concern for UAlbany heading into Saturday's game will be their inability to avoid turnovers in their games with Hartford this season. They averaged 21.5 turnovers per game in those two games, and will need to do better against the team with the America East's best turnover margin if they want to ensure that an upset will not occur on their home floor.
It will be interesting to see how the crowd looks for this game. The UAlbany men's team is playing Saturday morning in Vermont, and one would have to imagine that the women's team will suffer a very small hit in attendance as a result of people looking to spend the day in Vermont or whatever else people do when they are hours away from a venue.
Also a factor is the unfortunate timing of UAlbany's spring break, a break strategically schedule to coincide with St. Patrick's Day as a result of the horrible riots that students took part in downtown two years ago. Student attendance will be impacted by the fact that most students won't be in Albany to go to the game.
In the end, the two teams we all thought would be here at the beginning of the season are playing for a conference title, and it is going to be a real treat. The only order of business left is to determine a champion.