ORONO — Prior to Wednesday night’s game against Massachusetts, the University of Maine women’s basketball team was on the verge of tying the worst start in program history.
Instead, even after losing two close games in Florida last week, the Black Bears arrived back on campus ready to win as they ring in the new year — and the America East portion of their schedule.
Katelyn Vanderhoff connected for five 3-pointers to fuel a critical second-half charge that helped UMaine earn a 66-62 victory over the Minutewomen at Alfond Arena.
The sophomore guard finished with a career-high and game-best 18 points to help coach Cindy Blodgett’s Black Bears (2-10) snap a nine-game losing streak.
“I thought Vandy was aggressive, she looked for her shot, which is really what we need Vandy to do for us,” Blodgett said. “And the fact that she pulls so many rebounds for us (eight) from the guard position, that’s huge for us, too.”
UMaine’s zone defense bottled up the middle and forced the Minutewomen (3-10) to do most of their scoring from the perimeter. And though UMass hit 10 3-pointers, the Bears controlled the rebounding 46-31, grabbing 19 offensive boards.
“We knew we had it in us, we just had to come out and actually do it,” said UMaine senior Tanna Ross of Newburgh, who contributed eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal. “It’s very nice. It’s always good to win.”
UMaine led by as many as nine points (61-52) with 1:53 to play, but had to repel a late charge by the Minutewomen, who twice closed the gap to two.
Megan Zullo (16 points) got UMass within 62-60 on a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining, but Ross converted two foul shots at the other end.
“There is something to be said about experience and I thought she (Ross) did a great job helping us close it out,” Blodgett said.
Jasmine Watson (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) countered with a layup with 14.6 seconds left, but freshman Ashleigh Roberts made both ends of a bonus to provide the winning margin.
“We may not have shot the percentage that we’re used to,” Blodgett said of UMaine’s 12-for-22 effort, “but I love that we attacked. We got to the free throw line and we made them when they counted.”
UMass went 2-for-3 from the line.
Vanderhoff, complemented by the post play of freshman Ali Nalivaika, sparked the offense during a key segment of the second half.
Nalivaika opened the 8-0 run with a basket from underneath off a Ross lob pass, before Vanderhoff drained 3-pointers 33 seconds apart to give UMaine a 50-43 advantage with 9:22 remaining.
Nalivaika played only eight minutes, but provided four points, three blocked shots and a rebound as the hosts mounted a game-changing 15-6 run.
“She was a nice spark for us tonight,” Blodgett said of the 6-foot-4 center.
Vanderhoff (8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocked shots) went 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc in the second half to help the Bears repel a late threat by the Minutewomen. UMass twice got within two points (62-60 and 64-62) in the last 25 seconds, but UMaine converted its free throws to preserve the victory.
“We gave up too many open 3’s,” said Sharon Dawley, who took over this year at UMass after seven seasons and two America East titles leading Vermont. “Katelyn being 5-for-5, she definitely had a great game and I’d say we had our hands down for four of those.”
Amber Smith tossed in 13 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Roberts contributed 11 points and Corinne Wellington 10 points and nine rebounds. The Bears shot 50 percent (12-for-24) from the floor in the second half.
Cerie Mosgrove scored 13 points and Emilie Teuscher added 12 for UMass, which led by six early in the first half but could not generate enough consistent offense against the Bears’ defense.
UMaine returns to action Sunday afternoon when it opens the America East schedule with a game at Boston University.
The first half was a standoff as UMass’s Talen Watson hit a 3-pointer as time expired to make it 28-28.
UMaine had rallied from a 23-18 deficit, scoring eight unanswered points late in the half to keep the Minutemen from extending their lead.