ORONO, Maine — The youthful University of Maine women’s basketball team appeared a little tight during the first half of Thursday night’s exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick.
Chantel Charles helped the Black Bears settle down.
The freshman guard from England made three steals during a span of 48 seconds to ignite a dominating 26-0 scoring surge to open the second half, sparking UMaine to a 71-46 victory over the Varsity Reds at Alfond Arena.
Coach Richard Barron’s team hounded New Brunswick into 26 second-half turnovers among 34 on the night to turn a slow start into a confidence-building victory.
“After the talk in the change [locker] room, I thought that we needed to bring more energy,” Charles said, “so my focus was like, if we step up the defense, the offense is going to improve.”
The Bears were credited with 23 steals, including six by Charles in the second half.
“I thought the first four minutes of the second half was four of the best minutes we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Barron said.
UMaine pressured the ball near half-court to disrupt the Varsity Reds and generate numerous transition scoring opportunities.
“There was better defensive intensity in the second half, overall, but certainly in that first four minutes,” Barron said. “That led to scoring opportunities and our offense flowed from that.”
Charles, who finished with nine points, three assists and three rebounds, was the catalyst. Her emotional play helped the Black Bears get into a productive mode at both ends of the court.
Freshman center Anna Heise of Germany led UMaine with a game-high 18 points and grabbed five rebounds as all 12 Bears scored at least a point.
UMaine was without sophomore forward Danielle Walczak, who sat because of illness.
“I think we were pretty excited because it’s such a huge gym and there were so many fans,” Heise said. “I think everybody was so excited and we just tried to do our best.”
Lauren Bodine posted eight points and four rebounds, Liz Wood contributed seven points and two steals and Sophie Weckstrom and Mikaela Gustafsson added seven and six points, respectively. All are freshmen.
Senior Corinne Wellington led all rebounders with 11 and junior Ashleigh Roberts chipped in with four assists and three steals.
Claire Colborne paced New Brunswick with 11 points, while Colleen Daly added eight points and five rebounds. The Varsity Reds outrebounded the Bears 42-40.
The Varsity Reds’ ability to get open shots, many of them in transition, helped them forge a 33-29 halftime lead.
UMaine was a bit scattered on defense and inconsistent at the offensive end.
“The first half, I felt like our transition defense was bad,” Barron said. “They were pushing the ball, passing ahead and we were slow bringing the ball up and slow getting into our offense.”
A unit of five first-year players started the second half for UMaine. Charles was joined by Wood, Heise, Lauren Bodine and Michal Assaf. They wasted no time changing the flow of the game.
Heise scored off a Bodine assist, then made two free throws after a steal by Wood. Charles’ first steal led to her two foul shots and her second led to a rebound hoop by Heise.
When Charles stole the ball for the third straight possession and cashed in with a layup, UNB coach Jeff Speedy called a timeout. Less than two minutes into the half, UMaine led 39-33.
“There’s no question Chantal gave us a huge spark there,” Barron said. “I think everybody fed off that energy as she was making those defensive plays.”
Assaf’s fast-break layup off a Charles feed, Bodine’s 3-pointer on a kick-out pass from Heise and a Wood 3-pointer set up by an Assaf pass pushed the lead to 47-33 with 16:42 remaining.
The Bears scored the next eight points before UNB ended its drought on Rachel Cleary’s close-range basket with 10:57 left. The Varsity Reds never got closer than 17 the rest of the way.
The game was UMaine’s only exhibition of the season. The Bears open Nov. 9 against Auburn at North Carolina State.