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UAlbany, Siena women ready to move forward

Saturday, December 1, 2012
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— UAlbany got its wake-up call on opening day.

Siena got its on Wednesday.

Things perked up for the Great Danes after they lost by 17 to Fordham, on the heels of a 2011-12 season in which they made it to the NCAA tournament.

The Saints, meanwhile, have been in transition under new head coach Ali Jaques and were down in the dumps after letting a game against Seton Hall get away in the final eight minutes on Wednesday.

Nothing gets everyone pumped back up like a rivalry game, though, and that’s what they’ll get at 5 today at the Times Union Center.

Siena (2-4) will play the defending America East tournament champs as the first half of a double-header that includes a game between the respective men’s teams.

“We got done with Seton Hall on Wednesday night, and I kind of looked at them in the locker room, and I said, ‘OK, Saturday,’ ” Jaques said on Friday. “We moved past that game pretty quickly because of it. I kind of put it on them and said that this is the first time our staff has been through this game, so show me how much it means to you guys, let’s see what practice is going to be like, and they definitely responded.”

Jaques is a New Jersey native who has made six assistant coaching stops before landing at Siena for her first head coaching job.

She said the closest comparison she’s encountered through her coaching sojourn is the “Drive for I-75” when she was at Dayton and that school had a fun rivalry against Xavier a half-hour down the highway in Cincinnati.

The winner of the Siena-UAlb­any game takes (or keeps) possession of the Albany Cup in a series that resumed in 2001-02. The Great Danes have won the last two, and it wasn’t close last year, 72-48.

“We don’t put that much pressure on ourselves,” UAlbany senior Ebone Henry said. “We just go in like it’s any other game. We know it’s the battle for the Cup, so, yeah, we want to keep the Cup on our side and stay the top team in

Albany.”

“The point is for the community to get involved,” UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “It’s a great occasion for the community to gather around and say who went to Siena, who went to Albany. But for any basketball coach, it’s about winning the game, it’s not for bragging rights at all. We have a lot of respect for Siena.”

“We get into it,” Siena senior Lily Grenci said. “It’s the two top schools in Albany, so you want to be the one that wins, so we get into it as much as the community does.”

The Great Danes have shaken off the season-opening loss to Fordham to win four of their last five games. The only loss in that stretch was at Michigan State.

UAlbany was at home on opening night and had a banner-dropping ceremony celebrating their championship season, then got beat by 17.

“We dug ourselves in a hole there, but we got in at practice and got it together,” Henry said. “I think we were still focused on the past, with the banner dropping. What we did last year doesn’t matter anymore. We needed that game, just to be where we are now. Definitely, it was a slap.”

Siena had a losing season for the eighth straight year in 2011-12 and is still trying to find its way under Jaques.

Still, she’s happy with how the Saints are playing defense, a fullcourt press into a zone that is a distinct departure from past Siena teams.

“We’re coming together,” Grenci said. “We still have some growing pains, but our defense has been tough.”

An encouraging development that Abrahamson-Henderson has seen in the Great Danes is that a variety of players have had good scoring nights, relieving some of the offensive burden on Henry and Julie Forster.

“Now, we’re getting really hard to guard,” she said.

“All bets are off, and it’s just time to go play,” Jaques said. “It’s a great thing about college athletics, a game like this. You toss the ball up, and you have 40 or 45 minutes to figure out who’s better that night.”

 
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