ORONO — The University of Maine women’s basketball team had only two opportunities this preseason to demonstrate its progress under game conditions.
Saturday night’s exhibition contest against the University of New Brunswick gave the Black Bears a good test going into their regular-season opener.
UMaine fought back from an 11-point halftime deficit behind tenacious defense and executed well down the stretch to earn a 77-72 victory over the Varsity Reds at Alfond Arena.
“I think it was really important for us to have a game like this,” said sophomore guard Katelyn Vanderhoff, who was the floor leader for the Bears, who open Saturday night at home against Harvard.
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.
“I think they weren’t afraid of the moment,” Blodgett said.
“I thought it was a great test for us,” she added. “It think what it does is allows our players to feel good about coming back, fighting back.”
UMaine turned things around by tightening up its man-to-man defense, rebounding well and effectively attacking the basket on the offensive end. The Bears hounded UNB into 30 turnovers, 18 of which came in the second half.
“I really think it came down to defense,” Blodgett said. “We allow them to score 44 the first half, 28 the second half.”
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, two of which came during the Bears’ exhibition tour of Canada in August.
UNB coach Jeff Speedy believes his team will benefit from the experience.
“It’s always a really good test for us,” he said. “To be in a game like this and lose it in the last few minutes, I think that’s really going to help us moving forward.”
The Bears made their move with an 8-0 run jumpstarted by Roberts’ driving layup at the 4:07 mark off a UNB turnover. Samantha 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 with 3:34 to play.
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.
“Obviously, there’s still some stuff that we need to work on, but we came together,” Roberts said. “Even though we had turnovers, we had a lot of fouls, in the end we still came together.”
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, Vanderhoff tallied 12 points and six steals, and 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.
“It definitely took us a while just to get into the flow,” Vanderhoff said. “You can definitely tell they have played (more) and they have played some really good teams up there.”
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.
Taking advantage of their all-around quickness, the Varsity Reds built a 44-36 halftime lead with 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.
VARSITY REDS 72
Russell 4-0-8, sharpe 3-1-7, Colborne 6-5-17, M. Corby 0-1-1, L. Corby 5-0-13, Peters 2-1-5, Scime 2-2-8, Holstein 1-2-4, Tompkins, Foster 2-2-6
BLACK BEARS 77
Wheeler 0-6-6, Wellington 4-8-16, Baranowski 5-0-10, Williams 1-0-2, Vanderhoff 5-1-12, Roberts 7-2-16, Ross 1-0-2, Smith 5-2-13, Nalivaika
3-pt. goals: L. Corby 3, Scime 2, Fowler; Vanderhoff, Smith
Halftime: New Brunswick 44-36