ORONO — In spite of poor shooting, frequent fouls and lackluster rebounding, the University of Maine women’s basketball team was in position to win Tuesday night.
With the game on the line, it was Central Connecticut that made the necessary plays to come out on top.
Alexzandria Dowdy fed Lauren Arbogast for a key basket with 40 seconds left, then sank two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining to lift the Blue Devils to a 62-57 victory over the Black Bears at Alfond Arena.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (1-2) battled back from deficits in both halves, but shot only 19 percent (3-for-16) from the floor after intermission and gave up 25 offensive rebounds in the contest.
“The stat that sticks out is the 25 offensive rebounds and the multiple opportunities that they got to score,” Blodgett said. “It just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our defense to play again and again and again.”
Central Connecticut, 3-0 for the first time in its 25-year history in Division I, prevailed in great part thanks to the play of point guard Dowdy, who scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the second half.
The visitors overcame 28 turnovers by dominating the rebounding 49-30 and getting some high-percentage shots at key times.
“It’s just defense,” said UMaine junior Brittany Williams. “Like coach said, they got a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of second-chance shots. It’s our duty to put pressure on the ball and communicate on defense.”
UMaine hung tough despite experiencing a drought of 10 minutes, 40 seconds without a field goal starting in the last minute of the first half.
The Bears had erased a 12-point, first-half deficit, then clawed their way back after trailing by as many as nine points with 4:21 to play.
However, the hosts never established much offensive rhythm against CCSU’s aggressive man-to-man defense.
“They were very physical,” said redshirt freshman Amber Smith, who paced UMaine with 17 points, 13 of which came in the first half.
“They didn’t let you make the cuts you wanted to make,” Smith said. “Coach (Blodgett) tells us all the time, that’s what we need to do. It’s kind of not fun to have it done to you as an example.”
Corinne Wellington was a post threat late for the Bears, notching nine points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. Foul-plagued Samantha Wheeler added seven points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
Williams added seven points, three assists and three steals and Katelyn Vanderhoff contributed four points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists while playing 39 minutes.
Arbogast tallied 10 points for CCSU, while Justina Udenze grabbed 10 rebounds. Kerrianne Dugan had six points and seven rebounds.
With UMaine down 56-47 and 4:21 left, Wellington hit three of four foul shots, Smith made a 15-foot jumper and Wellington added two more free throws to make it 56-54 with 2:21 to play.
However, Dugan drove into the paint for a short runner to push the lead back to four. UMaine made three of four from the line to get back within 58-57 with 1:03 left, but Dowdy penetrated and dished off to Arbogast for a big baseline basket.
“They really got into the paint, and when you get into the paint, a lot of bad things happen,” Blodgett said.
The Bears later settled for a baseline drive by Williams, whose shot missed, and Dowdy made the two free throws to put the game out of reach. CCSU went 13-for-25 from the foul line.
UMaine made 24 of 34 free throws.
Sparked by the offensive play of Smith and the defensive intensity of Williams, UMaine turned a 25-13 deficit with 6:21 to play into a 31-31 deadlock with 29 seconds remaining in the first half, which ended with CCSU ahead 32-31.
UMaine committed seven of its 12 first-half turnovers during the first six minutes of play, and the Blue Devils capitalized with a quick-striking transition attack. Three-pointers 1:05 apart by Leanne Crockett gave the visitors an early boost.
“It definitely concerns me that we continue to get into a hole early,” Blodgett said.
“We can’t wait until we’re down 10 or down 14 to have a sense of urgency,” she added.
Smith helped restore the Bears’ confidence with an eight-point solo scoring surge during a span of 1:11. She buried 3-pointers 28 seconds apart, then answered a CCSU foul shot with two of her own. The second had UMaine back in the hunt at 26-21 with 4:49 to play.
Gabrielle Oglesby slowed UMaine’s momentum with a hoop, but the hosts rattled off nine points in the final 2:25, including two uncontested layups by the speedy Williams, to give the Bears a boost.