The first weekend of February was an important one for the University of Maine women’s basketball team. They faced off at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The Black Bears came into the weekend only suffering a single loss in the entire season. In what has been a difficult year for college sports teams, the team has made the most of it and has had great success on the hardwood.
On Saturday, the Black Bears came out strong, applying defensive pressure from the jump, which set the tone for the game. Tight defense led to early execution on the offensive side of the ball. Fifth-year guard Blanca Millan and others were having success attacking the basket and putting the defense on their heels, which led to easy baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Halfway through the first quarter, Millan started to take over the game helping the Black Bears develop a 17-4 lead. Towards the end of the first, second-year guard Anne Simon started to get going on offense, scoring 6 of her 12 points for the game, giving Maine a 22-9 advantage heading into the second quarter.
The Black Bears did not play as well in the second frame, getting into foul trouble and allowing UMass Lowell to creep back into the game on 11 made free throws. UMaine stopped driving to the basket and settled for too many jumpers and 3-pointers, but fourth-year guard Dor Saar hit two three 3-pointers to prevent the River Hawks from getting any closer. The two sides broke even in the quarter, leaving the score at 39-26 at the break. Millan led all scorers at the half with 18.
The Black Bears got back to work in the third quarter with the intention of putting away the River Hawks rather early. Maine came out of the locker room hot from 3-point land. Fourth-year sharpshooter Kelly Fogarty dropped three triples during the quarter, giving the team a comfortable lead. They found themselves up 52-28 midway through the third quarter and from there it was smooth sailing. The final score was 81-49, which improved Maine’s record to 13-1. Millan dropped 26 points and added four steals. Fourth-year forward Maeve Carroll contributed with a near triple-double, turning in 13 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Consistent play on both ends led to an easy victory for the No. 1 seed in the America East Conference.
Game 2 of the weekend series took place on Sunday afternoon and was senior night for the River Hawks as well. Both sides came out sluggis,; missed shots and turnovers were the story of the first quarter with Maine leading. Per usual, Millan was leading the charge offensively with 10 of the team’s first 15 points. The teams went shot-for-shot in the second, and Lowell had reduced Maine’s 6-point lead to 4 entering the half. Second-year forward Denise Solis played extremely well for the Riverh Hawks, especially in the second quarter.
Maine picked it up a bit in the third, as they outscored Lowell by 4 and grew their lead to 8 entering the final frame.
With a little over six6 minutes left in the fourth quarter, second-year Lowell guard Jaliena Sanchez stole the ball off of fifth-year Maine forward Fanny Wadling and made a layup in transition, reducing Maine’s lead to 2 points. Maine got careless with the ball over the next few minutes and Lowell took the lead with three and a half minutes remaining. Following some free throws from Millan, Maine’s score went up by one.
Along with tough defense from the Black Bears, and Millan made two huge plays down the stretch. With 15 seconds left in the game, she made a steal off an inbounds pass, forcing the River Hawks to foul and sending Saar to the line for free throws. Then, in the final play of the game, Millan blocked a last ditch 3-point attempt from third-year guard Kharis Idom as time ran out to secure the win. Maine held on to win by a score of 53-51, boosting their record to 14-1 on the season. Millan had 26 points and eight rebounds and was awarded America East Player of the Week for the sixth time this season, while second-year forward for the River Hawks, Denise Solis, had a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards.
Fogarty commented on the weekend sweep of UMass Lowell.
“I think overall this was a good weekend for us, obviously Sunday was tough for us offensively, but we showed that we can find a way to win, and I think this was a good game for us to play especially as we head down to Stony Brook. As we head into the tournament, we are really focusing on being consistent with the little things and showing up each game with our best,” Fogarty said.
Next week’s series against Stony Brook will be a great test for the Black Bears as they get closer to the conference tournament.