WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — In the postseason, there is little room for subpar play.
The University of Maine experienced a couple of extended offensive lulls Thursday night and the result was another early exit from the America East Women’s Basketball Championship.
Ninth-seeded New Hampshire outscored the Black Bears 11-1 to open the game and No. 8 UMaine never completely recovered as the Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals with a 65-50 victory at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena.
“That’s one of the first times I really felt like we started a game with a level of intensity and a sense of urgency that we had to win,” said UNH coach Kristin Cole, whose team advances to Friday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal against host and 23rd-ranked Hartford.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (8-21) suffered their third straight loss in the AE play-in game.
“I just felt like the game was more important to their team than it was to our team,” said Blodgett, whose team had won both regular-season meetings.
“I thought UNH played harder. I thought they got to every, single loose ball.”
Junior Tanna Ross of Newburgh was the offensive catalyst for UMaine. She connected for six 3-pointers on her way to a season-high 20 points.
“I just wanted to be a spark, emotionally, and hopefully hitting a shot or two would spark them (her teammates),” Ross said.
Maine sophomore Samantha Wheeler, an all-league, third-team choice, contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. However, the Bears shot only 28 percent from the floor overall.
UMaine also committed 16 turnovers, which led directly to 18 UNH points.
“There were times where we definitely fought back into it and felt more comfortable, but throughout the game we just kept going in and out, spurts of being all together, being on the same page, which really hurt us the entire game,” Wheeler said.
The Wildcats displayed tremendous offensive balance, placing five players in double figures. Jill McDonald, a 6-foot-2 center, tallied 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and blocked five shots.
“If we had a most improved player in the conference, I think she would probably have my vote,” Blodgett said.
Chrissy Hall tossed in 14 points and Lauren Wells netted 13, while Denise Beliveau contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. Candace Williams chipped in with 10 points and six boards.
UNH shot 44 percent from the floor (24-for-55), registering 26 points in the paint with a combination of entry passes and dribble penetration.
“I also think that we had an advantage to go inside and use the inside-out game, but also put the ball on the floor and attack off the dribble,” Cole said.
Much like their start to the game, the Wildcats took command early in the second half. UNH extended an eight-point halftime lead to 17 points with a 9-0 run during the first three minutes.
The surge included two baskets by McDonald, while Beliveau’s 3-pointer made it 41-24 with 17:02 to play. In the meantime, UMaine went without a field goal for more than 7½ minutes to start the half.
The Bears later made a final charge with a 19-8 run that lasted 6½ minutes. Ross knocked down three 3-pointers and Wheeler scored five points as UMaine cut the deficit to 52-45 with 5:52 left.
However, UNH settled down and held on.
“We came out the second half and while they started to pick up the intensity, we changed our intensity level and continued to stretch that lead,” Cole said. “We had great composure down the stretch.”
It was the final game in the careers of seniors Kristin Baker of Bingham (5 assists, 2 steals) and Katia Bratishko (8 points, 3 blocks).
The Bears spent the first half trying to extricate themselves from an early 10-point deficit. UMaine missed its first 13 field-goal attempts and committed six turnovers — in the first eight minutes — as UNH built an 11-1 lead.
The Wildcats established good penetration against the Bears’ man-to-man defense, while UMaine missed several close-range shots at the other end and turned the ball over in a variety of different ways.
Samantha Baranowski came off the bench to hit UMaine’s first field goal, a 17-footer from the baseline, with 11:31 to play. That seemed to help the Bears regain their composure.
Ross came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in the half, including one that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 23-18 with 4:31 remaining.
However, Wells made a 15-footer from the baseline and sank an open 3-pointer 36 seconds apart to restore the UNH lead to 10 and send them into the break with an eight-point cushion.