ORONO — Tanna Ross of Newburgh played at Alfond Arena for the last time in her career Sunday afternoon.
Using their senior captain as inspiration, the Black Bears teamed up to make it a memorable “Senior Day.”
Katelyn Vanderhoff scored 15 of her game-high 17 points in the second half, helping UMaine overcome a 10-point deficit to register a 65-56 America East women’s basketball victory over Vermont.
“It was ‘Senior Day’ and it was something extra to play for,” said Vanderhoff, a sophomore guard who provided nine rebounds, four assists and six steals in 37 minutes. “Tanna’s a great player and has been a great friend to me these past two years. We kind of rallied our team around that.”
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (4-22, 2-12 AE) halted a 10-game losing streak while also ending a 12-game skid against the Catamounts (5-23, 5-10 AE) that dated back to Feb. 26, 2005.
“Do we need it? Absolutely, because you team feels what it feels like to win, they know they can win and that will hopefully translate into multiple wins from here on out,” Blodgett said.
Ross, who finished with 10 points and three rebounds, was touched by the outpouring of support from her teammates, family, friends and UMaine fans.
“I’m sure everyone can tell that there was a lot more energy,” Ross said. “We just played together and everyone wanted to play together and you could feel it in the gym.”
A crowd of 1,673 gathered for the “Pink Zone” game to promote breast cancer awareness, which also included a visit by a handful of UMaine basketball alumnae. The Bears didn’t disappoint.
It all started on the defensive end, where UMaine’s 1-2-2 three-quarter-court press and its 1-2-2 matchup zone in the halfcourt successfully caused several turnovers and bogged down Vermont’s offensive rhythm.
The Bears turned up the intensity in the second half, with Vanderhoff and junior guard Brittany Williams leading the charge.
The Catamounts built a 10-point lead (41-31) early in the second half, but turned the ball over 12 times in the last 16:35. UMaine scored 27 points as a result of Vermont’s 23 turnovers.
“Their pressure really bothered us,” said Vermont coach Lori Gear McBride, the former head coach at Colby College in Waterville. “It’s frustrating because I think that other teams have pressured in a similar fashion and it hasn’t bothered us, so the way we attacked today and the (lack of) confidence we showed was disappointing.”
UMaine demonstrated balance. Samantha Baranowski contributed 11 points and four rebounds, Ashleigh Roberts posted 10 points and Williams chipped in with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Amber Smith added eight points and seven rebounds.
The Bears made only 13 turnovers and outscored UVM 26-14 from the foul line.
“I thought what we did was we played hard for the entire 40 minutes and when you do that, great things happen,” Blodgett said.
Lauren Buschmann paced Vermont with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Tonya Young had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Kellli Hier added 10 points.
UMaine seized the momentum with a 15-2 surge that consumed 5 minutes, 9 seconds. Vanderhoff scored seven points, made two steals and added an assist to ignite the run. Her pull-up jumper gave the Bears a 45-43 lead with 12:08 remaining.
“Katelyn’s a great off-the-ball defender because she reads people’s eyes,” Blodgett said.
“I think she’s very good at playing those (passing) lanes.”
UMaine then survived a spate of five turnovers in four minutes by harrassing Vermont into seven turnovers in a span of 3:46.
The Bears took the lead for good as two Williams free throws, Amber Smith’s eight-footer from the lane and two Ross foul shots came during a 6-2 run that made it 53-50 with 4:45 left.
UMaine held on as Vanderhoff’s step-back 3-pointer with the shot clock running down made it 60-56 with 1:25 to play.
“At the end of the day, players own their team, they execute,” Blodgett said. “I think Vandy made something out of virtually nothing at that moment.”
Vanderhoff made five of her last six free throws to put the game out of reach.
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s an awesome feeling,” Vanderhoff said of the win. “It was just a great team effort.”
The Catamounts outscored the Bears 13-1 during the last 3:37 of the first half to grab a 35-29 halftime lead. That burst included three 3-pointers.
UVM went 1-for-11 from distance in the second half.