Women’s basketball to face reigning champ Albany in AE tourney

The women’s basketball teams of Binghamton and Albany share just one commonality. Both the Bearcats (5-24, 2-14 America East) and Great Danes (25-4, 15-1 AE) enter their quarterfinal matchup coming off a loss. Other than that, the two teams couldn’t be further apart.

The Bearcats head into the tournament seeded last, after having dropped 13 of their past 14 contests. On the other hand, Albany cemented its status as conference powerhouse. The two-time defending America East champs had won a record-setting 38 straight America East games, and now look poised to receive the league’s NCAA tournament berth.

Albany is far and away the favorite against Binghamton. But the Bearcats are confident after downing Hartford and falling to UMBC in overtime to close out the regular season.

“Overall we’ve got a good feeling right now,” Binghamton head coach Nicole Scholl said. “I think our kids are playing with a different level of confidence being in that underdog role. The pressure is off of us. We have nothing to lose, and I think our team is really playing that way right now.”

The confidence Scholl has been saying her players needed finally looks as though it’s coming into place, and they’re feeling it.

“We are playing well right now, and we are coming into practice playing well right now,” senior guard Stephanie Jensen said. “It would have been a good win for us against UMBC, but double overtime is alright. And UMBC only lost by 10 to Albany so it proves that we can play with them.”

Sophomore forward Morgan Murphy echoed Jensen, citing the team’s increasing level of play as fuel heading into the tournament.

“From our last couple of games, we are playing our best basketball,” Murphy said. “Even though we lost to UMBC, I thought we played really well. We moved the ball well on offense, we played good defense. I think we are peaking at the right time.”

But while Binghamton may have the confidence and heart, Albany still has a stronghold in the skill department. In their Jan. 20 meeting at the Events Center, the Great Danes held Binghamton to 36 points and won by 30. In their following matchup a few weeks later, Albany handed BU its worst loss as a Division I program, defeating the Bearcats by 51. The Bearcats will look to employ a new strategy against Albany this time around to avoid the mistakes of games past.

“We just have a different game plan,” Jensen said. “We are playing more man this time around, trying to force them into taking more jump shots and just keeping the paint clear. We have a lot of focus on their big girls, and it’s just different this time around.”

With Albany having one of the biggest, fastest and strongest rosters BU has faced, the Bearcats have to take control of the game tempo early. Binghamton will count on huge performances from Murphy, senior guard Vaneeshia Paulk, who has averaged 21 points in her last two games, and the team’s leading scorer, junior forward Sherae Swinson. Long-range specialists Jensen and sophomore guard Kim Albrecht must also find their rhythms early to put the Bearcats on the board.

“This is why you play,” Scholl said. “March Madness, here we are. I am just happy to see our players are enjoying [the season] this time, and their level of excitement gets me excited.”

The quarterfinals matchup between BU and Albany is set to tip off at 7 p.m. tonight at SEFCU Arena in Albany.