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Terriers hope it’s their turn

Hartford has had women’s number

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / March 12, 2011

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The first day of practice this week for the Boston University women’s basketball team didn’t begin with an inspirational speech. Coach Kelly Greenberg didn’t need to explain to her squad what was ahead.

Instead, the players strolled into Case Gym after a film session, stretched, huddled, and ran through their usual drills. Yet BU is not preparing for just any game. Tonight, the second-seeded Terriers (17-13) will host Hartford in the America East tournament final, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

“As far as preparation, you want to keep it the same as you did all year long,’’ Greenberg said. “These young women know what’s on the line. I don’t have to say it. We keep things as usual and move forward.’’

Winning the conference tournament means beating a longtime rival in Hartford (16-15). The No. 4 Hawks upset top seed Maryland-Baltimore County, 66-48, to advance to the championship game for the second consecutive season. Last season, Vermont foiled Hartford’s championship hopes with a 55-50 win.

Hartford may seem like a surprise participant in this year’s championship game, but the Hawks have won 10 of their last 11 games.

“We have to be ready for a physical game and a team that’s very aggressive,’’ Greenberg said. “Anyone that just looks at their record is crazy. They were missing some players early on and they’re back and now they’re playing their best basketball of the season. It should be a real battle.’’

This is the fourth time in seven seasons BU and Hartford will compete for the championship, but it will be the first time BU will be at home. Hawks coach Jennifer Rizzotti is in her 12th season with Hartford, and Greenberg is in her seventh at BU. The teams have played some memorable games during the coaches’ tenures.

On Jan. 5, 2008, Kristi Dini made a shot from halfcourt at the buzzer to give the Terriers a 62-60 win, coming back from 16 down. Hartford got its revenge by beating BU in the conference tournament final that season.

BU senior forward Kerry Cashman called the buzzer-beater one of her favorite sports memories. In the last three seasons, BU and Hartford have split six regular-season meetings. This season, BU won, 58-50, at Case Gym Jan. 23, part of a 10-game winning streak to open conference play. But Hartford handed BU a 66-59 loss Feb. 13, the second defeat in a three-game skid by the Terriers.

“They’ve always been strong and they’ve always been that team we need to beat or get past,’’ Cashman said. “Now we battle it out. We split a lot during the season so it’s very fitting it would come down to this.’’

The Hawks have taken all three previous meetings in the America East final, winning by 2 in 2005, 19 in 2006, and 16 in 2008, with each game played in Hartford.

“We have a lot of history with them and the fact that we finally get to play them here for a championship game is very different,’’ Greenberg said. “I’ve been receiving a number of e-mails from alumni who are so excited. This week has been great with all of the hoopla of being home, but when it comes down to it, we’re still playing Hartford. The past few years they’ve had our number more than we’ve had their number, and I’m the first one who won’t forget that.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

America East women’s final

Who: Hartford vs. BU

Where: Case Gym

When: 7 p.m.

TV: CSN