To be the best, you've got to beat the best.
That's the sentiment head coach Maureen Magarity and the University of New Hampshire women's basketball team take with them today when they face the University of Albany in an America East battle for first place at noon at the SEFCU Arena in Albany, N.Y.
Both teams are riding six-game winning streaks. The Great Danes (15-3 overall, 5-0), the defending champions in America East, have won 21 straight conference games dating back to last season. UNH (10-7) is 4-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
"I can't think of a better time to play Albany than right now," said Magarity. "We gave Albany a good battle in the conference semifinals (UNH lost 71-57) last season. There's not many teams who can put two 6-foot-4 forwards (Corinne Coia, Kaylee Kilpatrick) in the paint like we can. I really believe we have the best shot in our conference to beat them this year because we match up well against them."
Today's game matches up the best offensive team against the best defensive team in the conference.
Albany, scoring a league-high 72.1 points per game, is led by sophomore forward Shereesha Richards, averaging a conference-best 22.8 points a contest. Richards has been selected as the America East Player of the Week eight times this season. Teammate Sarah Royals is fifth in the league in scoring at 12.9 points a contest.
UNH leads the conference in defense, allowing 57.9 points a game. On offense Coia (12.3 points) is ranked seventh in league scoring. Nashua's Kelsey Hogan, who became the 17th player in UNH history to score 1,000 career points last Monday, is ranked ninth in scoring at 12.2.
Magarity said her program has turned the corner. "We're no longer that team chasing other teams or never able to win enough games to get over the hump," she said. "Right now we're at the top of the conference and we have a target on our back. We've earned it and we embrace it."
Now UNH gets an opportunity to show if it can beat the defending champs, something it haven't done since Feb. 3, 2011."Right now we're focused, ready to play this game," said Magarity. "I keep telling my team to not be afraid of making mistakes. If we play hard for 40 minutes and leave everything on the floor, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win. We have nothing to lose, so why not us?"