ORONO, Maine — The tide finally appears to be turning for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
A month ago, Albany ran the Black Bears off the court in a 26-point blowout. Wednesday night, the Black Bears demonstrated how far they have come in recent weeks.
UMaine slowed the Great Danes with cohesive team defense and exhibited poise in its offensive execution while earning a 59-51 America East victory over Albany at Alfond Arena.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (4-21, 2-10 AE) claimed their second win in their last three games after snapping a 16-game losing streak.
“I think we’re in a nice spot where they’re really starting to get better and feel it and see it,” Blodgett said. “It certainly makes it easier for them to come to practice having experienced at least some success. I think they really can feel it.”
Again, the key to the win was UMaine’s defense. The Bears alternated between man-to-man and their 1-2-2 matchup zone, limiting a quick Albany team (3-21, 1-10 AE) to 34 percent shooting and forcing many of the Great Danes’ 24 turnovers, 17 of which came in the first half.
UMaine also neutralized Albany’s speed by hustling back in transition.
“Defensively, they’re really understanding how important it is and how good they really are on the defensive end,” Blodgett said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have breakdowns, but they’re picking each other up so if dribble penetration is allowed, someone is stepping in to help.”
The Bears also exhibited patience and made good decisions on offense. Even with leading scorer Brittany Boser held in check and plagued by foul trouble, UMaine executed well most of the night.
The result was plenty of balance. Senior forward Colleen Kilmurray led the way with 11 points and nine rebounds, while point guard Kristin Baker of Bingham contributed 10 points, all in the second half, five assists and two steals.
Samantha Baranowski and Tanna Ross of Newburgh each chipped in with eight points. UMaine shot 42 percent from the floor.
“That’s just coming with time,” Baker said. “We’re just getting more confident and we’re staying more relaxed and letting the game come to us instead of forcing everything. That’s been the difference.”
UMaine weathered runs by Albany to start the first (7-0) and second (10-3) halves, and also shook off an 8-0 flurry by the Great Danes in the late going.
The Bears gained the upper hand during a three-minute stretch of the second half. With the game tied 30-30, Baker hit 3-pointers 36 seconds apart for her first points of the contest.
The teams traded hoops and Albany’s Charity Iromuanya made a foul shot, before Kilmurray scored from inside off a spin move, Amanda Tewksbury hit a 10-footer in transition off a Boser steal and Brittany Williams drove the baseline for a hoop that made it 44-33 with 11:35 remaining.
“I think they’re starting to individually understand their strengths,” Blodgett said. “That’s maturity. That’s them understanding what they’re good at. It’s really great to see.”
UMaine pushed the lead to as many as 14 points, but Albany closed within six (57-51) with 1:56 to play. The Bears maintained their composure and prevailed.
“I thought they did a great job handling that, because that’s something you have to experience,” Blodgett said. “It’s a different mentality, but you still have to be aggressive.”
Janea Aiken scored a game-high 19 points for Albany and Tabitha Makopondo posted 14 points and nine rebounds. Britney McGee added eight points, seven rebounds and five assists.