Coming off a big win last week versus the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the University of Maine Black Bears (20-9, 13-3) headed to Burlington, Vermont on Thursday, Feb. 22 for a 7 p.m. showdown with the University of Vermont Catamounts (8-20, 5-10). The Black Bears carried their momentum in from last week and decided to build on it, blowing out the Catamounts 79-47 in their home arena of Patrick Gymnasium.
The Black Bears won with contributions from all over. They came out of the gates hot yet again, as they shot an astounding 63.2 percent from the floor over the first 10 minutes of the game. Vermont had very few answers for Maine early on, and Maine never trailed in the entire game. Some early involvement from fourth-year forward Kirsten Johnson with an “and-one” and the sharp-shooting pair of third-year guard Parise Rossignol and second-year guard Blanca Millan led to Maine heading into the second period with an impressive 18-point lead.
It was more of the same for the Black Bears in the second, who continued to shoot the lights out and build on their lead. Millan stayed hot in the second quarter as well. She was aided by redshirt third-year forward Tanesha Sutton, who was a force in the paint all game long. Almost halfway through the second period, Maine held a 35-15 lead, and had gained full control over the game. They took advantage of the Catamounts’ recent continuous struggles (they have lost four consecutive games) and took a 43-21 lead into halftime.
Whatever Vermont Head Coach Chris Day said to his team at the break worked off the bat. After two quick triples from Millan, which pushed the deficit to 26 points, the Catamounts played by far their best basketball of the game in the mid-third quarter, going on a 13-2 scoring run and finally forcing Maine into some tough shots and pushing them out of their comfort zone. The lead shrank from a seemingly insurmountable 26 to a reasonable 15 with a little under four minutes to go in the third period. This resulted in a timeout from Maine Head Coach Amy Vachon. The break in the action seemed to have relaxed the Black Bears, as they came out and ended the third on a 9-2 run to push the lead back to 22 points.
Maine held on steadily to a 20 point lead for the rest of the contest. A few of the team’s starters got some rest in the final period with the game being out of reach. The Black Bears outscored the Catamounts 19-9 in the final period and won the game with a final score of 79-47. First-year center Kat Williams’ late bucket actually stretched Maine’s lead to the highest it had been all game, at a whopping 32 points.
Overall, the Black Bears shot well in this game. They were 47 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line, while shooting 30 percent on shots from beyond the arc. The battle inside was what really won this game, though, with Maine heavily out-rebounding Vermont, 44-27. They limited the Catamounts’ second-chance opportunities and converted on their own, and ended up winning the possession battle throughout the game.
Leading all scorers in the game was Millan, who recorded 22 points on a 9-20 night from the floor, while also grabbing six rebounds in what turned out to be a big game for her. Sutton also had a big game, recording a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, five of which were on the offensive end. She was also very efficient from the field, going 7-9.
For the Catamounts, two-time America East Player of the Week, second-year forward Hanna Crymble, led the way with 15 points. One of only two players in double figures, she shot 55 percent from the floor. The other double-figure scorer for the Catamounts was redshirt fourth-year guard Kristina White, who recorded 10 points in the game.
The Black Bears have now won back-to-back games and look to finish the season strong with a home game against co-leader of the America East conference, the University at Albany Great Danes. The game is at home in the Cross Insurance Arena in Bangor, Maine this Sunday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. The season finale should be a great one, as it carries plenty of weight as to who will be the conference favorite heading into the tournament.
Maine downs Albany in overtime
It’s not always a matter of how long a team is in the lead for a game. All that matters is who has the bigger score at the end.
Take the University of Maine women’s basketball team. In their game on Sunday, Feb. 25, they held a lead for all of four minutes and 15 seconds. But part of that time was where it mattered most:right at the end, as the Black Bears defeated the University at Albany Great Danes (23-6, 12-4) 74-69 at the Cross Insurance Center.
Albany started off the game hot from 3-point range, hitting four of their first five from beyond the arc to take an early 12-3 lead. Maine would chip away at the deficit, but Albany’s ability to hit 3-pointers gave them a 22-15 lead after the first quarter.
Both teams would trade off making shots, as well as turnovers and missing shots. Every time the Black Bears pulled a little closer, the Great Danes would be right there to answer back. Albany would carry a 37-29 lead into halftime while leading the Black Bears in terms of field goal percentage (39.3 to 37.9), 3-point field goal percentage (53.8 to 15.4), rebounds (23 to 15), points of the turnover and bench points. Maine held the edge in points in the paint at 16 to 8.
The Great Danes came out of the locker scorching once again. Fourth-year forward Jessica Fequiere, who closed out the first half with 21 points, seemed prime to put the team on her back again by extending the lead to 10 on a jumper less than a minute into the quarter. But then, something clicked. Millan and Rossignol would take turns shutting Frequiere down, not letting her do anything.
“They played me the same way that did during the first half: they played aggressive, they wouldn’t let me get my hands on the ball, wouldn’t let me use the screen. That took away a big part of my game,” Fequiere said.
Second-year guard Mackenzie Trpcic gave Albany their biggest lead of the night by nailing a dagger to put them up 51-35. After a layup by Sutton, Trpcic found Fequiere to increase the lead back to 16. The two teams would head back to the fourth, with Albany leading 56-44.
If a 12 point deficit with 10 minutes to go seems tough to come back from, trying having to go half of that time without your star player. The Black Bears had to do that after Millan fouled out with 5:44 remaining in the game.
“When Blanca [Millan] fouled out, that was an ‘oh, dang’ moment. But we had momentum and we just had to keep it up without her,” Sutton said.
Maine’s defense, which had been critical throughout the season, really stepped up in the fourth quarter, holding Albany to just 10 points. This lockdown was critical in getting the Black Bears back into the game.
“We weren’t getting the stops we needed. Once we started stopping them, they had to switch to playing man defense, and that’s when they struggled to stop us. We were able to start cutting into their lead, from 16, to 14, eventually it gets down to eight. Then it’s a two possession game. This team never feels like we’re out of it,” Vachon said.
As Maine pulled ever closer, the crowd got louder and louder. The noise was deafening at the end, and the collective hearts of Black Bear nation sank as second-year guard Julie Brosseau’s 3-pointer at the end of regulation rattled out at the last second.
Maine would go on to outscore Albany 8-3 in overtime as Brosseau hit two of the biggest shots of the game from beyond the arc following a pair of free throws from first-year guard Dor Saar.
Maine, not projected to finish very high in the preseason polls, has shocked a lot of people, a testament to what the coaching staff has put in place.
“Amy [Vachon] has done a great job with what she has: a group of great players who really seem to buy into what they are doing,” Albany Head Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said.
With the regular season in the books, Maine heads into the America East tournament as the No. 1 seed. Sunday was also Senior Day, and Johnson was recognized for her contributions to the team throughout her four years. The ride is not over, as the Black Bears look to head to the Big Dance, also known as the national tournament.