ORONO, Maine — Four quick turnovers during a critical stretch changed the dynamics of the game Wednesday night for the University of Maine.
Rather than further cut into a six-point deficit, the Black Bears’ mistakes helped fuel a key 6-0 run that sent the University of New Hampshire on its way to a 66-50 America East women’s basketball victory at Memorial Gymnasium.
An estimated 500 fans turned out on “Beach Night” to watch as the Wildcats (11-9, 4-4 AE) piled up 30 points as a result of UMaine’s 19 turnovers. New Hampshire had 20 points off turnovers in the second half alone to turn its slim lead into a comfortable cushion.
“The first 10 minutes of the second half was more about our turnovers,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron said of how UNH took the upper hand.
“I feel like this was a very winnable game,” he added.
Senior Denise Beliveau tossed in 18 of her game-high 24 points in the second half as the Wildcats were able to find holes in the Black Bears’ man-to-man and 2-3 matchup zone defenses. Beliveau scored 13 consecutive UNH points during one stretch to help the visitors pull away.
Kelsey Hogan scored 16 points along with three assists and three steals, while Cari Reed added nine points and six boards for New Hampshire. Waterville native Morgan Frame finished with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“I’m really happy with how we passed on the interior,” said UNH coach Maureen Magarity. “People stepped up and made some really nice plays.
“Denise really stepped it up and was unconscious in the second half,” she added.
The Black Bears (5-16, 2-6 AE) were paced offensively by senior Brittany Willams, who scored all of her 14 points after intermission. Ashleigh Roberts registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Sam Baranowski added 12 points.
In contrast to the Bears’ woes, the Wildcats did an outstanding job taking care of the ball and committed only seven turnovers.
UMaine shot 40 percent from the floor overall and outrebounded UNH 37-33.
The Bears utilized only six of their nine available players. Freshman Danielle Walczak was sidelined after taking an elbow to the eye during a Monday practice, joining senior Sam Wheeler (post-concussion symptoms), junior Amber Smith (illness) and sophomore Ali Nalivaika (knee surgery) on the injured list.
The Bears, who trailed by 11 points at halftime, appeared poised to make a run early in the second half. UMaine scored the first two hoops of the period and two Becca Knight free throws later cut the Wildcats’ lead to 33-27 with 15:47 remaining.
The Bears came unglued after that, turning the ball over on three straight possessions during a span of 50 seconds. UNH countered with Reed’s close-range basket off an inbounds play and two foul shots each by Beliveau and Frame to push the margin back to 12 at 39-27 with 14:10 to play.
“We played hard, but we just had moments like we have every game, moments where we had all the momentum going for us and then we would give up two straight possessions where they would get layups or wide-open shots,” Roberts said.
“At that point, we have to make adjustments and we failed to make those adjustments when we really needed to make them and it gave the momentum right back to them,” she added.
UMaine never got closer than 10 after that and a barrage of 14 consecutive points in four minutes by Beliveau — including two 3-pointers — put the game pretty much out of reach at 54-37 with 7:37 left.
“It’s disappointing because you let things go,” Baranowski said. “We let [No.] 10 [Beliveau] score like 14 points in a row. We didn’t make a decision to shut it down, [to say] were not going to let it happen.”
The Wildcats surged early in the first half and maintained the lead the rest of the way, including a 32-21 halftime advantage.
The Wildcats scored the last four points of the half as UMaine attempted to implement a couple of different defensive tactics. Barron wanted the Bears to try forcing the action with the hope of generating some momentum going into the break.
“We tried to create some opportunities with some traps and some presses,” Barron explained. “Those backfired on us because we gave up layups.””
UNH shot 48 percent (14-for-29) from the floor and committed only four turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats received 10 points from Hogan.