Albany Great Danes chasing 5th straight America East title

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Shereesha Richards is ready to put an exclamation point on her stellar career for the University at Albany. It's the wait that's become a little bit trying for the senior star and the Great Danes.

''I think everybody is a little growly right now, which I like. The whole week of waiting is a long, long time,'' Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. ''We would have preferred to play back-to-back-to-back games.''

Albany (26-4) is back in the America East Conference tournament title game for the fifth straight year and will face second-seeded Maine (26-7) at SEFCU Arena on Friday. But both teams have had to wait the better part of a week for the big game and the chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

More television exposure prompted the league to alter the playoff schedule this year. The quarterfinals and semifinals were held last weekend in Binghamton, and the Great Danes and Black Bears have since had to wait, trying to keep the butterflies at a minimum.

''We're excited,'' the Jamaican-born Richards said. ''We're ready to go. We're ready to play.''

The Great Danes have ruled the America East Conference of late, going 60-4 in conference play the past four years. They've also won the last four postseason tournaments and a fifth title in a row would be a league record, one more than the mark Albany currently shares with Maine (1993-96).

Both teams finished this season 15-1 in conference and spoiled each other's attempt to finish with an unblemished record in league play. Albany gained the top seed because the Great Danes have a higher RPI.

''It's going to come down to defense,'' said the 6-foot-2 Richards, Albany's all-time leading scorer with 2,372 points and a three-time conference player of the year.

Maine held Richards in check the last time the teams met.

Other things to know when Albany hosts Maine for the America East Conference title:

3'S A CHARM: Maine shot 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in its victory over Albany on Valentine's Day, with Liz Wood and Lauren Bodine each hitting four 3-pointers, Sigi Kolzar three, and Sophie Weckstrom a pair. That was the most makes from long range allowed by the Great Danes this season and more than double their average of allowing 6.2 made 3s per game..

''They shoot the 3, shoot the 3, shoot the 3,'' Abrahamson-Henderson said. ''We've really got to guard the 3-point line.''

WELCOME BACK: Maine is in its first America East title game since 2004, when the Black Bears were the top seed and defeated third-seeded Boston University 68-43. The Black Bears are the last team to beat Albany at SEFCU Arena, 52-44 just over a year ago.

UNDAUNTED DANES: Albany has won 13 straight America East tournament games, the second-longest streak in conference history. Maine holds the record of 14, set from 1995-98.

ACCURACY COUNTS: Albany ranks fourth in Division I in field-goal percentage, shooting 49 percent.

STREAKING BEARS: Maine enters championship game with the 11th-longest current winning streak in the nation at 14 straight, six of them on the road. The Black Bears are one victory shy of matching the school record for a season set in 1995-96.

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AP College Basketball Website: www.collegebasketball.ap.org ; follow Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947 .

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