ORONO — One week before its regular-season opener, the University of Maine women’s basketball team received a test of its readiness to take on a Division I opponent.
The Black Bears trailed most of the evening, but eventually wiped out an 11-point, second-half deficit Saturday night on their way to a 77-72 exhibition victory over the University of New Brunswick at Alfond Arena.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s team outscored the visitors 11-3 over the final 4:07 with a gritty performance against a UNB squad ranked fifth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s preseason national poll.
Freshman guard Ashleigh Roberts scored four points during the game-clinching surge as UMaine beat the Varsity Reds for the second time in three meetings this year, including two during the Bears’ exhibition tour of Canada in August.
Roberts led UMaine with 18 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes after returning from a first-half ankle injury. Sophomore forward Corinne Wellington contributed 16 points and nine rebounds as the Bears placed five players in double figures.
Redshirt freshman Amber Smith provided 13 points and five rebounds, sophomore Katelyn Vanderhoff tallied 12 points and six steals, and junior Sam Baranowski added 10 points and five rebounds. Junior Sam Wheeler chipped in with six points, six rebounds and three steals but fouled out after playing only 24 minutes.
UMaine hounded UNB into 30 turnovers, 18 of which came in the second half.
The Varsity Reds, who are 9-2 in exhibition play, shot 43 percent from the floor behind Claire Colborne, who finished with 17 points. Leah Corby added 13 points, while Amanda Sharp had seven points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
New Brunswick outrebounded UMaine 47-45, but managed only eight points in the last 8:22.
The Bears made their move with an 8-0 run jumpstarted by Roberts’ driving layup at the 4:07 mark off a UNB turnover. Baranowski then cashed in another turnover with a low-post basket that gave UMaine its first lead (70-69) since 26-24 in the first half.
Vanderhoff hit a runner from the lane after yet another Varsity Reds miscue and Roberts later scored on an offensive rebound to give UMaine a 74-69 lead with 1:58 to play.
It was the Varsity Reds who had the upper hand at halftime , 44-36, thanks to their uptempo style and tenacious rebounding.
UNB shot 49 percent (16-for-33) from the field in the first 20 minutes, placing 10 different players in the scoring column while applying full-court pressure and forcing a quick pace whenever possible.
The Varsity Reds also handed out 10 assists on their 16 field goals.
UMaine shot a solid 39 percent from the floor, but committed 14 turnovers. The hosts grabbed a 24-19 rebounding edge with a late flurry of offensive boards.
The Varsity Reds led by as many as eight points late in the half, with the Bears having to come from behind almost from the outset. UMaine turned an eight-point deficit into a 26-24 edge behind a 13-3 surge that included four points by Sam Baranowski, but Melissa Foster scored two baskets as UNB regained the lead with a 7-0 run.