AMHERST, Mass. — Playing with a 16-point lead is foreign territory for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
Sunday afternoon, the Black Bears found themselves in that enviable position — only to watch the advantage dwindle to one point.
With the momentum squarely in Massachusetts’ favor, UMaine instead held its ground and took it back.
Kristin Baker drained a 3-pointer to spark a 13-0 flurry that carried UMaine to a 65-49 victory over the Minutewomen at the Mullins Center.
“Them feeling what winning feels like is something we can’t create in practice. You have to experience it,” Blodgett said. “Now they know what they’re chasing, they know that feeling, so they’re chasing it; that’s what they want.”
UMaine (4-8), which was completing an eight-day road trip, snapped a couple of streaks with the performance.
The Bears won their second straight game for the first time since Feb. 7 and Feb. 10, 2007. They also won on an opponent’s home court for the first time since Dec. 29, 2007 — a span of 28 games.
Those statistics aren’t lost on the UMaine players.
“I think we need to focus on other things during the game, but once it’s over, we look back and we say, wow, this is a huge step for us,” said senior guard Amanda Tewksbury, who scored 16 of her season-high 24 points in the second half.
“We haven’t experienced this in a couple years now,” she added. “Especially for us seniors, this is really exciting.”
UMaine opens its America East schedule with Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against Boston University at Alfond Arena in Orono.
UMaine was in charge after Corinne Wellington’s three-point play gave the Bears a 43-27 lead with 14:08 to play. However, the Minutewomen (6-8) of the Atlantic 10 responded.
UMass pounded the ball inside and Jasmine Watson scored six points to spearhead a 17-2 scoring run that spanned nearly 8½ minutes. The hosts exploited UMaine’s brief switch to man-to-man defense and turned up their own defensive intensity.
The Bears committed six turnovers, which UMass converted into 12 points during the rally.
“You knew UMass was going to make a run. You expect that at some point,” said Blodgett, pointing out the hosts’ 3-point threats.
“I thought maybe we relaxed a little bit,” she added. “We’re not used to playing with a big lead, so that’s something that we also have to grow.”
Diatiema Hill’s steal and driving basket from the lane cut UMaine’s lead to one point (45-44) with 5:39 left.
The Bears had an emphatic answer.
On UMaine’s next possession, Baker took a feed in the left corner from Samantha Wheeler and hit a clutch 3-pointer that seemed to reinvigorate the Bears.
“[The defender] came out, she didn’t have her hands up,” said Baker, who provided 15 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals in 38 minutes. “At that point, I just thought, ‘I’m feeling good, shoot it.’ If I’m open, then I’m going to take it if it’s in the flow of the offense.”
It was only the Bears’ second basket since the Wellington three-point play, but it had a huge impact.
Jasmine Rush swished a 3-pointer and Baker cashed in her own steal with a driving lefthanded layup 25 seconds later that pushed UMaine’s lead to 53-44 with 3:17 remaining.
Two Tewksbury free throws after another UMass turnover and her 3-pointer on the ensuing possession gave the Bears a comfortable 14-point bulge with two minutes left.
“It got close and then I thought we did a great job of punching right back,” Blodgett said. “That’s great because we take that experience with us, too.”
Tewksbury contributed nine rebounds and four assists to her scoring output, while Wheeler posted eight points, a game-high 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Katia Bratishko registered eight points and nine rebounds.
UMaine outrebounded UMass 37-31, went 13-for-16 from the foul line and scored 19 points off 17 turnovers.
Tewksbury said the Bears gained some confidence at last week’s Texas-San Antonio New Year’s Classic and carried it over to Sunday.
“We knew that we needed to continue doing what we’ve been doing these past couple games and it showed with our confidence in each other, our togetherness on the court, and you can see the result.”
Kristina Danella led UMass with 12 points, while Nicole Jones tallied 11 points and seven rebounds and Watson 10 points.
The Bears scored the last eight points of the first half to build a 30-23 halftime lead.
UMaine’s fluid 1-2-2 matchup zone achieved its goal of bottling up the middle effectively and limiting the hosts’ high-percentage shots. UMass made four 3-pointers, but couldn’t establish much offensive continuity.
On offense, the Bears demonstrated aggressiveness. Baker’s crafty dribble-penetration moves led to a team-high nine points in the half, while Tewksbury provided some perimeter punch.