ORONO, Maine — Wednesday night proved a lesson in perspective for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
The Black Bears were unhappy with their performance on the court at Alfond Arena, where a gritty Hartford squad earned a 59-40 America East victory.
Once it was over, the entire UMaine community was able to celebrate a victory of its own.
With his players and an enthusiastic crowd looking on, UMaine coach Richard Barron celebrated reaching its fundraising goal in the Play4Kay breast cancer awareness and research initiative by having his head shaved at center court.
UMaine fans pledged $10,351.81 toward that cause, which meant Barron had to fulfill the arrangement he had promised when he kicked off the fundraising effort.
“It’s very encouraging, kind of big picture, because a lot of people said there’s no way you’re going to raise $10,000, no way,” Barron said minutes after losing his hair.
“It was amazing how far we came in such a short period of time over the last week,” he added after mentioning the numerous people and groups who rallied behind the cause. “I really am proud of that. I’m proud for the team, for the program and that I kept my word.”
The money raised goes to the Kay Yow Foundation, which supports breast cancer research and awareness. Yow, the longtime women’s basketball coach at North Carolina, died of the disease.
Barron had to temper his enthusiasm for the Play4Kay effort because of his team’s performance on the court.
UMaine (6-20, 3-10 AE), which wore special pink uniforms trimmed in white and Columbia blue, struggled in several areas. The Bears got only 12 minutes out of senior forward Samantha Baranowski because of flu-like symptoms.
“I was very frustrated with our performance today,” Barron said.
“I give them [Hartford] credit, but I still see a lot of the mistakes as being ones that are well within our control,” he added.
Hartford (17-10, 8-5 AE) overcame UMaine with aggressive defense, strong rebounding and good offensive execution.
The Hawks unleashed aggressive defense, mostly man-to-man, which helped create many of the Bears’ 25 turnovers. Hartford scored 22 points off the miscues.
The visitors outrebounded UMaine 32-28, snatching 10 of their 12 offensive boards in the first half on their way to 10 second-chance points.
“I told our kids that I wanted to make sure we matched their effort and exceed it and that we were as tough, if not tougher, than they were,” said Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti. “Those kind of intangible things were our focus tonight and I thought we won out on that battle.”
Ruthanne Doherty paced the Hawks with a game-high 19 points while Nikkia Smith (7 rebounds) and Daphne Elliott added 10 points each. Hartford went 17-for-20 from the foul line and racked up 15 assists.
Freshman center Danielle Walczak led the Bears with 11 points and five rebounds. Brittany Williams added eight points and Becca Knight of Alfred contributed four points, six rebounds and three assists.
Courtney Anderson of Greene posted seven rebounds and four assists for UMaine, which committed 25 turnovers that led to 22 Hartford points.
The Bears were unable to match the Hawks’ effort and execution.
“They were strong and physical, definitely, and aggressive, but we knew that coming into the game,” Walczak said. “We prepared for that in practice.”
Hartford already led 38-26 when it used an 8-0 spurt to take control.
Alex Hall opened the run, scoring from close range off a feed from Keyoka Mars-Garrick. Cherelle Moore then cashed in a UMaine turnover when she canned an 18-footer off an Alyssa Englert assist.
Hall then made an 18-foot jumper and sank two foul shots to give the Hawks a 46-26 advantage with 11:15 remaining.
“They’re trying not to make mistakes, trying to do the right thing,” Barron said. “But the way it manifests itself is in indecisiveness and a hesitancy and a lack of aggressiveness and assertiveness on the court.”
The Hawks took a 34-22 lead into the locker room at halftime after manhandling the Bears in some aspects of the game.
Hartford wore down UMaine with its muscle and hustle on the boards, outrebounding the Bears by a 22-12 margin. That included 10 offensive rebounds.
The Hawks also helped force some of UMaine’s 12 turnovers, which led directly to 13 points. It also enabled Hartford to attempt 11 more field goals than the Bears.
Doherty led the offensive charge for Hartford, scoring 15 first-half points on 5-for-10 shooting. Elliott made two 3-pointers on her way to eight points.
UMaine didn’t establish much offensive continuity, but Walczak scored seven points down low. The Bears shot 43 percent (9-for-21) from the floor.
Hartford began to pull away with a 9-0 run starting at the 9:33 mark. Doherty scored from underneath off an Alyssa Englert assist, then followed with a close-range hoop in transition 25 seconds later.
A Keyoka Mars-Garrick foul shot, Amber Bepko’s 3-pointer off an inside-out pass from Englert and a foul shot by Doherty gave Hartford a 27-14 lead with 4:37 to play in the half.
UMaine committed four turnovers to help fuel the Hawks’ surge.