ORONO — The University of Maine women’s basketball team had hoped to re-establish its collective confidence Saturday afternoon.
Instead, the Black Bears started poorly and never quite recovered.
The University of South Alabama drained seven 3-pointers in the first half and cashed in on a handful of UMaine turnovers to build an early lead and earn a 66-55 women’s basketball victory in the consolation game of the 18th Dead River Co. Classic.
In the championship game, the University of Florida prevailed with outstanding defense, grinding out a 52-43 victory over Navy at Alfond Arena.
Gators post player Azania Stewart was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 9.5 points and 12 rebounds. She is joined on the all-tourney squad by teammate Jordan Jones, Cassie Consedine and Angela Myers of Navy, Samantha Wheeler of UMaine and Siedah Banks of South Alabama.
UMaine returns to action Wednesday night at Kansas.
In the consolation game, the Jaguars sprang to a 10-point advantage behind their long-range shooting and put the Bears (1-4) under the gun.
South Alabama (3-3) hit four 3-pointers in the first 4:07 and made a living off UMaine’s early turnover difficulties.
“I think intially we kind of took it on the chin when they opened up with the seven 3′s in the first half,” said UMaine coach Cindy Blodgett. “We certainly didn’t do a great job of contesting (shooters).”
The Jaguars scored 17 points off Black Bear turnovers in the first half and finished with 23 in the contest.
“We got many of those at different times,” said South Alabama coach Rick Pietri said. “We didn’t always convert, but I felt like we got some good opportunities.”
UMaine was ineffective in its matchup zone as it failed to rotate quickly and get to shooters, but the Bears buckled down and surrendered only 52 points in 33 1/2 minutes after making the switch to man-to-man.
“I thought overall, defensively, it was a decent job,” Blodgett said.
The Jaguars shot only 29 percent for the game, but went 11-for-32 (34 percent) from 3-point range.
“We’ve got a number of kids on our team who can make 3-point shots and we felt we could get some people some looks and we got them and made them,” Pietri said.
Sarda Peterson led South Alabama with 17 points and five assists, while Banks posted 13 points and five rebounds and Christian Shelter eight points and 12 rebounds.
The Bears were led by Wheeler’s career-high 19 points, along with eight rebounds and three assists. Freshman guard Ashleigh Roberts contributed 11 points and seven rebounds, while junior forward Corinne Wellington added nine points and five rebounds.
The Bears spotted the Jaguars an early lead as the visitors quickly found the range from 3-point distance.
Banks made two 3-pointers with Brittney Rutledge and Shelter hitting one each as South Alabama took a 12-2 lead barely four minutes into the game. The Jaguars went 7-for-19 outside the arc in the half on their way to a 30-18 lead at the break.
“They’re a very good shooting team and we lost them a couple of times, so we still need to work on that in practice,” Wheeler said.
The Bears’ offensive woes continued as they shot 21 percent (5-for-24) from the floor, including 1-for-6 on 3-point shots, in the first half. UMaine wound up at 36 percent for the game, but eight of its 20 field goals came in the last seven minutes of the game, after the Jaguars had built a 17-point cushion.
“We struggled offensively, we struggled to score, and that’s something that we’ll continue to work on,” Blodgett said.
Rachele Burns of Gorham made her collegiate debut in the half when she replaced Amber Smith at the 3:46 mark.
The redshirt freshman guard, who has worked her way back from a third reconstructive surgery on her right knee, appeared comfortable on the court and wound up contributing three points, two rebounds, an an assist in 16 minutes.
“(It’s) something I’ve always dreamed of,” Burns said of playing for UMaine. “I hadn’t played a game since my junior year of high school, really, so it’s nice to get back on the floor.”
Burns joined the Bears last season, but reinjured the knee during the Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage and was forced to undergo another surgery.
In the title game, Florida (5-1) buckled down on the defensive end and came up with a handful of clutch shots to finally break away from Navy (4-2).
Jaterra Bonds paced a well-balanced Gator offense with 11 points, Stewart tallied nine points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, and Jones added nine points. Lanita Bartley chipped in with seven points and five assists.
Audrey Bauer sparked Navy with 13 points, Angela Myers provided 10 points, six rebounds and three assists, and Consedine added eight points and four rebounds.