No. 24 Hartford clinches league title with 63-57

Feb 25, 2010 - 3:14 AM ALBANY, N.Y.(AP) -- 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.

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