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Historic Season for Women's Basketball Draws to Close in NCAA Tournament

Zakiya Saunders, left, battles for a loose ball against Florida's Carlie Needles. Saunders and UAlbany scored a historic 61-59 upset over the Gators. (Lori Van Buren, Times Union photo used by permission)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (March 20, 2016) -- The 12-seed UAlbany women’s basketball team had its greatest season in program history come to a close on Sunday afternoon in the Carrier Dome as the Great Danes fell to 4-seed Syracuse 76-59 in the NCAA Second Round.

UAlbany earned its first-ever DI NCAA Tournament victory as a program this year and tied its program record single season wins total, finishing with a 28-5 record. The Great Danes also made history as the first basketball team in the America East, women’s or men’s, to win five consecutive conference tournament titles.

"What I am feeling is proud, what I am feeling is, 'they’re amazing,' and I don’t want them to have their heads down," said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. "I want them to feel blessed that the things we have done at the University at Albany are pretty amazing. These players that we’ve recruited have really created a dynasty."

The collegiate careers of Shereesha Richards and Erin Coughlin, the two UAlbany seniors, concluded on Sunday. The two helped UAlbany to a 107-23 record to stand as the winningest class in program history, including a 60-4 tally in America East play and four America East Tournament titles.

"I’m just happy that we made it this far, a lot of people didn’t believe that we’d make it this far," said Richards. "And we have, we beat the odds. It’s sad that we lost, but we have accomplished so much this year, and there is more positive to look on than there is negative."

"It is never easy knowing it is your last time suiting up," said Coughlin. "What we’ve accomplished as a team is amazing, and I’m so proud to be part of this team. I feel bless and I’m so proud of all of them, and I love my teammates."

After leading for most of the first quarter, UAlbany trailed Syracuse (27-7) by seven at the half. With Syracuse building its lead as high as 18 in the third, UAlbany chipped away the deficit to nine in the middle of the fourth but was not able to bridge the gap.

Richards led UAlbany with her 10th double-double of the season off 23 points and 14 rebounds. The three-time America East Player of the Year has finished with 2,440 points, second all-time in conference women’s basketball history and first among all UAlbany basketball players, women's or men's.

Coughlin racked up a strong performance with six points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. With 139 career three-point field goals, Coughlin finishes her career ranked fifth in program history in that category.

On Friday, the Great Danes were down by as many as 16 points to Florida before staging a dramatic comeback, all without Richards. After she fouled out with 6:18 remaining, UAlbany rallied to stun the Southeastern Conference power Gators, 61-59 in a first-round game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

The Great Danes had yet to win a tournament game before the victory. UAlbany is one of only 16 teams in women's basketball history to have won its conference championship for five years in a row. They became just the 19th 12-seed to defeat a 5-seed since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994.

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