BANGOR — Bowdoin College stresses aggressive, intense defense as part of its everyday practice routine.
Utilizing quickness and depth, the Polar Bears gave an impressive demonstration of its approach Tuesday night.
Bowdoin of Brunswick harassed Husson University into 18 first-half turnovers and took advantage with an opportunistic and balanced offensive effort while rolling to an 89-55 women’s basketball victory at Newman Gymnasium.
“I think this team has really taken it up a notch from last year,” said coach Adrienne Shibles, whose Polar Bears (5-1) were ranked No. 24 in Monday’s d3hoops.com national Division III poll.
“(Monday), we had a high school coach in watching us and he was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re going this hard in practice,’” she recounted. “It’s something we know we have to do all season to keep teams out of the paint, because we’re a little undersized.”
During the last decade, Bowdoin of the New England Small College Athletic Conference has built its tremendous success around playing gritty man-to-man defense. That mentality permeates the team.
“Good defense is always emotionally charging, so when someone makes a big steal and we get a layup or an “and one,” it really gets our intensity going and really generates our offense,” said senior co-captain Katie Bergeron of Bradley, a former Old Town High standout.
It was a happy homecoming of sorts for some Bowdoin coaches and players, including Bergeron, junior guard Amy Hackett of Bangor, Mount View High School product Shibles and assistant coach Alison Smith, another Bangor grad.
“It’s always fun to come here and play just because we do have the contingent from northern Maine,” Shibles said. “Alison and myself had our families here, so it’s really nice for us.”
Bowdoin used its defense to manufacture a 14-0 spurt that ended the suspense early and sparked the visitors to a 51-22 halftime advantage. The Polar Bears routinely double-teamed the ballhandler and were able to pick off numerous passes and force some poor ones.
“It was rough,” said Husson junior point guard Caitlyn Butterfield of Gorham.
“Really they just outworked us, outplayed us, but I think it’s a lesson for us. It can be a huge learning experience for us,” she added.
Bowdoin placed five players in double figures, led by Nicole Coombes’ 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Colleen Sweeney contributed 12 points and seven rebounds and Jill Henrikson of Bath also scored 12 points.
Kaitlin Donahoe (4 assists, 3 steals) and Allie Piscina tallied 10 points each. Bergeron finished with seven points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals, while Hackett added six points.
Freshman Stephanie Comstock of Bangor paced Husson (2-4) with 13 points, while Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan (4 assists), Butterfield and Amanda Gifford of Lee chipped in with nine points each. Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag added eight points and four rebounds.
The Eagles hung with the Polar Bears for seven or eight minutes, before the pressure began to take its toll. Husson had taken a 12-10 lead on Gifford’s driving layup at the 14:34 mark, but it was all Bowdoin from that point on.
Alexa Barry (6 assists) kicked off the Polar Bears’ first big scoring run with a 14-foot jumper, then Bergeron scored on an offensive rebound after a Husson turnover. Coombes’ fast-break layup off a Bergeron assist made it 16-12.
Bowdoin scored 10 unanswered points before Kelli Murray hit a 17-footer for the Eagles. However, the Polar Bears then rattled off 14 points with the help of four Husson turnovers to make it 34-14 with 6:24 left in the half.
Henrikson scored the last eight points of the run, hitting two 3-pointers.
“They totally rattled us with that pressure and that defense. We didn’t handle it well at all,” said Husson coach Kissy Walker.
“When we’d get on offense, we were so happy that we broke the press that we were shooting first shot, and then we’d miss and they’d transition. It’s a credit to Bowdoin.”
Bowdoin shot 54 percent (38-for-71) from the floor for the game, going 18-for-30 (60 percent) in the second half. The Polar Bears also registered 25 assists.
Bowdoin, which had nine players with two steals or more, also outrebounded the Eagles 37-22.
“Just knowing that we all trust each other out on the floor is really huge in our defense,” Bergeron said.
Husson, which did not have to contend with any full-court pressure after intermission, finished with 26 turnovers.