When it comes to playing in the NCAA tournament, there is no substitute for experience.
Bowdoin College of Brunswick will have a fair amount tonight when it takes on No. 2 Kean University of Union, N.J., in the Sectional Semifinals of the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship.
Coach Adrienne Shibles’ Polar Bears (22-6) begin their quest for a spot in the Final Four against the Cougars (28-1) in an 8 p.m. contest at Kean’s Harwood Arena.
In the other “Sweet 16” matchup there, Christopher Newport (30-0) and Rochester (21-6) meet at 6 p.m. The winners play Saturday at 6 p.m.
Bowdoin is the only remaining Maine school left in the Division III tourney. The Polar Bears are making their 10th consecutive NCAA appearance and their first trip to the Sectionals since 2007, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
The Polar Bears qualified this winter after losing to Colby in the New England Small College Athletic Conference semifinals. Bowdoin was one of five NESCAC teams to earn NCAA spots.
Bowdoin advanced in NCAA play with victories over Baruch University (67-53) and Western Connecticut (65-43).
Kean has been a juggernaut this season, winning a school-record 28 straight games after a season-opening loss to Division I Rutgers.
The Cougars, champions of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, are 7-0 this season against tournament teams, including Ithaca, DeSales, Husson University of Bangor, Mary Washington, Scranton and William Paterson (twice).
Kean is making its fourth consecutive NCAA appearance and reached the Elite Eight in 2007 and ’08. The Cougars hosted the first two rounds, beating Penn State-Berks 105-68 and Tufts 75-56.
Bowdoin’s solid defense, which ranks 18th while allowing 52.8 points per game, encounters a Kean ballclub that is third in Division III in scoring (79.2 ppg) and second in scoring margin (27.4).
The Polar Bears feature a well-balanced offense sparked by 6-foot senior forward Caitlin Hynes of Owls Head, who is averaging 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, along with 1.9 blocked shots.
Bowdoin also relies on senior forward Leah Rubega (9.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg), junior guard Katie Bergeron of Bradley (9.7 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.9 spg, .846 free-throw percentage), and sophomore guard Amy Hackett of Bangor (7.6 ppg). The Polar Bears look to sophomore guard Ellery Gould (6.1 ppg), freshman guard Kaitlin Donahoe (5.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) and senior guard Sabrina Cote of Dexter (4.3 ppg), along with junior Colleen Sweeney (3.5 ppg) and sophomore Nichole Coombes (3.0 ppg) to contribute key minutes.
Guards Melissa Beyruti and Naimah Clemons help set the tone for a prolific Kean squad. Beyruti (13.6 ppg), is shooting 44 percent (92-for-207) on 3-pointers, while Clemons (13.1 ppg, 2.4 spg).
The frontcourt is led by 5-11 Tiffany Patrick (12.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 spg, 2.3 bpg) and Cardiss Jackman (8.4 ppg). Kean’s .450 field-goal percentage ranks 11th in the nation.
The Cougars have been stingy on defense as well, giving up 51.8 ppg (12th) on 29 percent shooting, which is second in Division III. They also limit opponents to 24 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Kean also racked up 7.4 blocks per game, tops in the country.