ORONO, Maine — Losing 16 consecutive games can shake a team’s collective confidence.
The University of Maine women’s basketball team tried not to allow its struggles to dampen their work ethic or enthusiasm.
The Black Bears’ determination paid dividends Thursday night as they turned in a cohesive defensive performance while shutting down rival New Hampshire 57-49 in an America East game at Alfond Arena.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (3-20, 1-9 AE) breathed a collective sigh of relief as they ended a program-record losing streak that dated back to a Dec. 3 win over Robert Morris.
“It’s been a long time, but it feels awesome to win finally and we’re going to keep building from here,” said junior forward Brittany Boser, who led UMaine with 13 points.
“It’s tough. It starts to wear on you after a while,” she said of losing. “We kept coming to practice strong every day and we kept believing through it all and I think it showed tonight.”
Defense was the cornerstone of this victory. UMaine clamped down on the Wildcats (6-18, 4-6 AE), holding them to 28 percent field-goal shooting.
The Bears’ efforts were particularly impressive against UNH top scorer Candace Williams, who was held to five points, all foul shots, including 0-for-17 shooting from the floor.
“We just can’t afford to have her go 0-for-anything and that’s just brutal, but it’s a credit to Maine. They played very well on her,” said UNH coach Kristin Cole.
Blodgett said the Bears have worked hard lately on getting a hand in the face of shooters to disrupt their concentration.
“The team did a great job with attention to detail,” she said. “They went in with a game plan and they executed it.”
Samantha Wheeler was instrumental in shutting down Williams early and finished with nine points and five assists. UMaine was not without adversity, as it was plagued by foul trouble. Two players fouled out, while another was whistled for four personal fouls.
The Wildcats did not take advantage, going 13-for-23 (56 percent) from the foul line.
“We didn’t play [without] mistakes and we had our turnovers still up there (19), but we just played through it and played together and it really looked like we outworked the other team tonight,” said senior Colleen Kilmurray, who contributed five points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Kilmurray left the game with 4:01 left in the first half to receive four stitches over her right eye after a collision on which she was whistled for a foul. She returned at 16:20 of the second half, giving UMaine an emotional lift.
Kilmurray fouled out with 2:35 to play.
“When we have someone like Coll, our one senior, foul out and show that kind of emotion, it raises all of us up,” Boser said.
UMaine, which built a 28-20 halftime lead, never trailed. The hosts extended the advantage with superb defense during a six-minute stretch of the second half.
The Bears, playing mostly man-to-man, held UNH without a field goal for 5:53. During that span, they put together a 9-0 run that turned a six-point edge into a 45-30 lead with 8:18 left.
Samantha Baranowski opened the surge, scoring off a lob feed from Tanna Ross on the front end of a three-point play. Kristin Baker followed by hitting a runner from the lane, then Ross made a fast-break layup off a Baker pass to put UMaine in charge.
“They did an outstanding job passing the ball,” Blodgett said.
“If we work the ball into areas where each individual can score, having high assist totals is something that can become very common,” she added.
Baranowski added nine second-half points and four rebounds for the Bears, who outrebounded the Wildcats 45-37, 23-15 after the break. Baker provided six points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals. Ross added eight points.
Amy Simpson paced UNH with a game-high 17 points, including five 3-pointers, and six rebounds. Abigail LaRosa tallied five points and eight assists and two steals.
UMaine looks ahead with confidence to Sunday’s noon home game against UMBC.
“Being a younger team … getting one win under your belt is a big thing now, especially this far into the season, because everyone contributed tonight and we all saw how good we were in spurts,” Kilmurray said.