No. 24 Hartford clinches league title with 63-57
Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti has been around college basketball long enough to know how national rankings work for mid-majors.
``The ranking means nothing the minute you lose,'' the former UConn point guard said.
Her team almost found that out in its first-ever game as a Top 25 team.
Diana Delva scored a season-best 22 points, including the go-ahead three-point play, to help No. 24 Hartford outlast Albany 63-57 on Wednesday night and clinch the America East regular season title.
Hartford has won the conference regular season title four times in the past five years. The Hawks (24-3, 15-0 America East) overcame a spirited challenge from the eighth-place Great Danes to win their 17th consecutive game. Erica Beverly added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
It was the 13th straight win for Hartford over Albany (10-18, 3-12). The Hawks had to work for the victory after trailing at halftime and 52-50 with 6:10 left in the game.
Delva muscled her way to a traditional three-point play to give Hartford the lead for good at 55-52, then added four more over the final 3:17 to ice the win. Delva was 10-of-11 from the line and grabbed seven rebounds.
``We need to come out every night ready to play regardless of if were ranked or not,'' Derva said. ``We did what we had to do to win.''
Hartford appeared to be in control early until Albany used an 11-0 run late in the first half capped by Felicia Johnsons 3-pointer to take a 29-27 lead into the break.
That was part of a 22-7 sprint that put Albany ahead 38-31 early in the second half.
``I really thought that our guard play was better,'' Albany coach Trina Patterson said. ``They were better on the inside.''
Indeed, Hartford chipped away, retaking the lead on Daphne Elliotts drive through the paint with 12:30 remaining.
The Great Danes got 18 points from Johnson in the loss, while Ebone Henry added 14. Charity Iromuanya, Albanys lone senior, scored 11 points in her final home game.
With 8:46 left, Delva scored four straight points to break a 46-all tie. But again the Great Danes answered, going up 52-50 on Tabitha Makopondo's layup.
It proved to be Albany's final lead. Hartford pushed to 61-57 on Delva's foul shots, and Iromuanya's 3-pointer with 21 seconds left hit front iron.
``This one would have been a great, competitive win,'' Patterson said. ``It could have been something special.''
Hartford gutted out the victory despite allowing its most points over its last 11 contests, partly thanks to an 18-of-19 performance from the free-throw line.