WEST HARTFORD - It took a little more than a minute for Boston University coach Kelly Greenberg to see the first red flag.
Erin Brown raced down the floor and drilled a 3-pointer in transition to give the University of Maryland-Baltimore County its first points in the America East semifinal matchup with the Terriers.
“That was a real signal that things were going to go their way as far as shooting percentage,’’ Greenberg said. “She was wide open when we allowed that to happen.’’
If there was one thing that UMBC coach Phil Stern kept telling his team going in, it was that eventually shots would start falling.
In their first regular-season game against BU in January, the Retrievers missed 13 threes. When they met last month, they missed 11.
With a chance to reach the conference championship game for just the second time, Sunday seemed like a good time to start connecting from long distance.
“We knew there was a night coming where we were going to make some threes,’’ Stern said. “We knew it was coming eventually.’’
Michelle Kurowski, who had taken 10 threes in UMBC’s two regular-season losses to BU and missed them all, drained three first-half trifectas and went 5 of 7 overall from long range. She put up a game-high 25 points (1 shy of her season high) as UMBC eliminated BU, 77-61.
The Terriers (23-8) had held teams to 27.4 percent shooting from 3-point range and UMBC hadn’t had much success from deep (28.7 percent), but the Retrievers (17-14), mainly Kurowski, had the hot hand Sunday.
“One thing that we were aware of going into the game was that she was a good player,’’ BU senior guard Alex Young said of Kurowski. “She wasn’t missing. We were aware of that, but again we didn’t make as big of adjustments as we should have. She came down and she felt very comfortable. We didn’t do a very good job making her feel uncomfortable.’’
The Retrievers will face host Albany in the championship game Saturday, and it will be the first time since 2001 that BU or Hartford didn’t reach the final. Albany advanced Sunday with 58-50 victory over Binghamton, getting 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals from Ebone Henry.
“Coach told the whole team, ‘Shoot with confidence,’ ’’ said Kurowski. “ ‘There’s going to be a day where we’re going to just shoot lights out from three. Once one starts going in you feel it, and just keep shooting because you have that rhythm.’ And that’s basically what happened and it was contagious for this game, which was awesome.’’
The Terriers had won 15 of 16 coming in and seemed like a lock to reach the final.
“It’s hard to beat anybody three times,’’ said BU’s Chantell Alford, the conference player of the year. “Each time we played them it was a close game that came down to foul shots, so we knew if we took care of business on our end we had a good chance to get it done, it just happened to be a big one today.’’
Alford, who entered averaging 12.6 points and 4.5 rebounds, missed 11 of 14 shots and finished with 9 points, largely because she was hounded all day by Retrievers guard Kristin Coles (12 points, 10 rebounds). Stern was confident Coles could put the clamps on Alford.
“It was no doubt that she was going to contain her,’’ Stern said. “You can’t stop her for the whole game because Alford’s a great player, but Kris is the best defensive player around and probably one of the best athletes at the mid-major level, and we just knew that she could stop her, or contain her, without having to help.’’
Beyond bottling up BU’s star, UMBC made it tough for sophomore guard Rashidat Agboola, who had a dominant double-double in February’s meeting but finished with 8 points and 12 rebounds on 2-of-8 shooting Sunday, and junior guard Mo Moran, who was held to 8 points, missing four of her first five shots.
“It’s no secret that we go as Mo Moran goes, and they made everything very hard for her,’’ Greenberg said. “They played great defense and we didn’t, to be honest with you.’’
More than anything, UMBC protected the ball. BU had been forcing teams to cough it up 16 times on average, but UMBC gave it away just five times.
“That’s when we run our best offense is when we’re passing and cutting and running, what we have been doing all year,’’ Kurowski said. “Today we clicked in every aspect of the game.’’
The Terriers, who won the regular-season conference title, will have a berth in the women’s National Invitation Tournament, but the Retrievers are now looking to win their second conference title since 2007.
“We’ve had an up-and-down year,’’ Stern said. “It’s been a rocky road for us. We were disappointed in our regular season and our seniors at times weren’t happy with the way they were playing, but everyone played great today. We did exactly what we wanted to do against them.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.