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<B>Vermont guard Candon Rusin (21), a former Twin Valley star, drives to the hoop against Albany during a game earlier this season. (Brian Jenkins/For the Burlington Free Press)</B>
Vermont guard Candon Rusin (21), a former Twin Valley star, drives to the hoop against Albany during a game earlier this season. (Brian Jenkins/For the
Vermont guard Candon Rusin (21), a former Twin Valley star, drives to the hoop against Albany during a game earlier this season. (Brian Jenkins/For the Burlington Free Press)
Saturday March 16, 2013

ANDREW SANTILLO

The Troy Record

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Mike Black didn't want to be reminded of the last time the University at Albany traveled up to Vermont.

The Great Danes senior guard is still trying to forget the 70-45 embarrassment that the Catamounts handed out on Jan. 5.

"Nobody's thinking about that game," Black said. "Nobody wants to think about that game because Vermont put a hurt on us."

UAlbany (23-10) and Vermont (21-10) meet again, on Saturday, in the America East championship game, and the Great Danes are hoping for a much different result. The game is at 11:30 a.m., and can be seen on ESPN2.

"We're a completely different team than when we played them the first two times," said UAlbany coach Will Brown. "We're better. Our lineup is different, our rotation is different."

This is the third time these two programs have met in the championship game, with the Great Danes advancing to the NCAA tournament in 2006 and 2007.

"They've proven they can come into this gym, in a championship environment, and beat us," said Vermont coach John Becker.

This meeting pits the two programs with the most recent success in the conference. This is the eighth title game appearance for the Catamounts in the past 11 years, while the Great Danes are the only other school to win two titles in that time period.

Vermont has won eight straight meetings between these two programs, dating back to the 2009 America East tournament, when UAlbany posted a quarterfinals upset, in what is still the only No.


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7 beating a No. 2 in conference postseason history.

"We're complete underdogs," said Black, who has never beaten the Catamounts in his career. "All the pressure is on Vermont. It's in their gym and I feel like nobody thinks we're going to win."

The Catamounts won both games in the regular season, also winning 50-43 at SEFCU Arena (Jan. 26). But it was the earlier meeting at Patrick Gymnasium, where Vermont had its way.

"We just laid an egg, simple as that," said guard Jacob Iati. "It was just one of those games where we simply didn't play well. We didn't do anything right. We didn't get anything to go our way. We just weren't clicking."

The Great Danes fell behind 7-0, and trailed 35-19 at intermission, as the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. When the dust settled, Vermont had walloped UAlbany. That was then and the Great Danes contend they have come a long way.

"We're a different team now -- a lot better," said Black, who is just nine points shy of moving into fifth on the program's all-time scoring list.

Immediately following that game, Brown inserted Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley into the starting lineup.

"I think we're a more rounded team than we were," said Rowley, who is averaging 11.7 points per game since becoming a starter.

The second regular season meeting was the middle game of a three-game losing streak for UAlbany, which knocked them out of the lead pack in the league standings.

"We learned from (our league losses) and we've managed to win when it counts," said Rowley.

The regular season and the seeds -- the Catamounts are No. 2, the Great Danes are No. 4 -- don't matter now.

"We beat them twice this year, but they're a different team than they were when we played them in the regular season," said Becker.

Even if none of the UAlbany players has beaten Vermont, the Great Danes still feel confident they can win. They know they will play better that that earlier meeting, in Burlington.

"We can only go up from there," said Rowley.