Created: 03/23/2014 8:17 PM WNYT.com
By: UAlbany Athletics & WNYT Sports
BATON ROUGE – The No. 15 seeded University at Albany women's basketball team scrapped and battled throughout Sunday's NCAA Tournament First Round game, nearly battling back from a 22-point deficit. However, in the end, the No. 2 West Virginia Mountaineers held off the Great Danes, winning by a score of 76-61 to advance to the Second Round where they will meet site host LSU.
Making their third consecutive NCAA appearance, UAlbany's impressive season comes to end with a 28-5 overall record.
"Well, obviously I'm very proud of them. I thought they competed completely until the end," said Head Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. "They came out fighters, and finished as fighters, and I thought they represented the America East very proudly.
"I think West Virginia is a great team, but what it did for our team was prove to each and every one of them that they can play against anybody at any time, as long as you just fight and you play hard, and stick to our system. I think we did a great job," added Coach Abe.
In the game, junior Megan Craig scored a team-best 23 points with six rebounds, while classmate Sarah Royals also reached double figures with 14 points, two assists, and two steals. Facing early foul trouble, Shereesha Richards finished with nine points and six boards, while Margarita Rosario logged a game-high six assists and three steals to go along with six points and four rebounds.
West Virginia had three players reach double figures, as Christal Caldwell notched 26 points, Bria Holmes scored 20, and Averee Fields totaled 10. Asya Bussie pulled down a game-high 12 boards.
Winning the tip, UAlbany took a 2-0 lead on the first play of the game, as Craig laid it in after a lob pass from Richards. Craig scored the Danes' first five points of the game, but the Mountaineers answered on their end of the floor, taking a 10-5 lead at the 15:59 mark on a pair of free throws by Holmes.
After West Virginia stretched the margin to eight, Richards cut it back to six with a put-back, making the score 17-11 with 11:56 remaining in the first half.
However, that is when the Mountaineers caught fire, exploding for a 15-0 run to take a 33-11 lead on Caldwell's three at the 6:57 mark.
Royals ended UAlbany's over five minute scoring drought with a jumper with 6:15 remaining. The Great Danes cut the deficit to 17 on Tammy Phillip's jumper from the left wing, but Holmes answered on the other end, completing a three-point play at the charity stripe. Phillip countered in the final minute, sinking a free throw before hitting a jumper on the break to send the Great Danes into the locker room trailing by 17, 42-25.
While UAlbany could have easily admitted defeat, the Great Danes came out of intermission with a spark and determination to rally, picking up with full court pressure.
UAlbany began chipping away at the margin, as Craig and freshman Imani Tate both made a pair of baskets, Royals made two free throws, and Richards made a low post move, cutting WVU's lead down to single digits, 46-37, with 13:36 to go.
However, on the other end of the floor, Richards committed her fourth personal foul and Taylor Palmer sank one free throw to make it a double-digit deficit again.
The Mountaineers built their advantage up to as much as 14 points, 56-42, with 9:04 on the clock, before the Great Danes when on a tear.
Rosario knocked down a three on a kick-out from Richards, and then stole the inbound pass, tossed the ball ahead to Royals who made the layup and got fouled for a three-point play with 7:53 remaining.
In West Virginia's next possession, Richards logged a steal, Rosario pulled down an offensive board and fed Craig in the post, cutting the margin to five, 56-51, with 6:58 on the clock.
Caldwell answered for WVU with a layup and a jumper, but the Danes hung around, as Richards powered to the hoop to stay within seven. However, she was charged with her fifth and final foul on the next play with four minutes left.
Out of the final media timeout, the UAlbany defense forced a 10 second violation, but the momentum did not totally swing into the Great Danes' favor, as WVU was consistent at the free throw line in the waning minutes.
UAlbany got within eight, 65-57, on Craig's pair of free throws with 1:29 remaining, but when the Danes were forced to foul in an attempt to gain possession, West Virginia went 9-for-9 at the free throw line, putting the game out of reach.
In the contest, WVU shot 73.5 percent (25-34) from the charity stripe, while the Great Danes shot just 48.3 percent (14-29). From the field, the Mountaineers shot 42.6 percent (23-54), and from three 22.7 percent (5-22), while UAlbany made 46.0 percent (23-50) from the floor and 16.7 percent (1-6) from behind the arch.