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Women’s Basketball Survives Scare Against UMBC in Last-Second Win

By Christian Hince | February 19, 2024

Kayla Cooper upheld her reputation as a clutch performer for the University at Albany when she knocked in the game winning layup with 0.7 seconds left during a 58-56 triumph over University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Saturday (2/17). Head coach Colleen Mullen called a timeout with 17 seconds left after a game-tying Retrievers basket before drawing up a play for her team’s scoring leader.

Kayla Cooper (#20) shoots over UMBC forward Sarah Blount (#24).

Photo Credit: Vince Gasparini / The ASP

“[Mullen] had enough confidence in me to put it in my hands so I was ready,” Cooper said, sealing the deal with a dribble-drive through two defenders off a handoff from Sarah Karpell. “We wanted to use the whole clock just so they wouldn't get a second chance to try to draw up a play.”

Cooper led the Great Danes in scoring with 16 points on 6-12 shooting and also had six rebounds in just over 22 minutes on the court due to foul trouble. She brought about two whistles in the first quarter alone and finished with a game total of four.

The Great Danes’ win over the now 8-17 Retrievers, who are bottom-three in the America East with a league record of 4-9, wasn’t their most even performance. Both teams shot poorly in the first half, with respective marks of 29.6% and 31.0% from the field for UAlbany and UMBC. The Great Danes trailed 27-24 at half as Cooper sat the entire second quarter and fellow post Deja Evans saw limited time due to foul trouble as well. They also went down 35-24 quickly into the third and didn’t lead until the game’s final eight minutes.

Evans described her team as “a little beaten up” after the win, but continued, saying “you have to push through it to get a win like that, and we were able to push through it and continue to play as a team until the end.”

The 6’1” freshman played just 11 minutes through the first three quarters after accruing three fouls but played the entire fourth quarter. Evans finished with a team-leading 13 rebounds, six of which came in the final period, while getting to the free-throw line for a 6-8 mark which helped build her game total of 10 points. It was her second career double-double.

Like many wins this season for UAlbany, Saturday’s came from their Division I-best scoring defense. A six-minute stretch between the third and fourth quarter saw the Great Danes outscore UMBC 14-0 to go up 53-48, after which they never trailed again. 

“This team is so committed on the defensive end that they don't have to be scoring baskets to defend, and that's what makes this team really special,” Mullen said.

UAlbany’s emphasis on defensive identity remained especially important in a third-straight game without Megan Huerter, the DI leader in 3-point shooting at 49 percent as a bench piece for the Great Danes. 

“When we get into foul trouble, and our scoring output is on the bench, it's harder to facilitate those shots and to get that offense going,” Mullen said on another night with an active roster of just eight players.

Despite being held to 56 points, the Retrievers had their share of performers. Jordon Lewis scored 16 points on 6-12 while adding six rebounds. Guards Carmen Yanez and Jaliena Sanchez respectively scored 11 and 10 points as noteworthy ball-handlers across the night. Regardless of UMBC’s record, Mullen has full respect for head coach Johnetta Hayes, whose roster includes eight transfers. 

“They've gotten used to playing together, they understand [Hayes’] system, so this team is a really good team,” Mullen said.

The Great Danes are still on top of the America East at 22-3 overall and 11-1 in conference and will rematch the only conference opponent they’ve lost to next Thursday when they visit defending league champions Vermont. Despite UAlbany’s limited health and limited options as March approaches, Mullen insists the Great Danes keep playing the same way.

“The rest is really important right now,” she said. “It's not about putting in new things and trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s getting better at what you have.”


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