PORTLAND, Maine — Coach Richard Barron admits he doesn’t really know what he’s going to see when he puts his University of Maine women’s basketball team on the court for any given game.
On Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears bricked their way through an abysmal first half offensively, then charged back after the break, only to come up short.
Rhode Island limited UMaine to 26 percent shooting and outrebounded the hosts by 19 while earning a 51-38 victory in front of 450 fans at the Portland Expo.
The Rams, coached by Maine native Cathy Inglese, bottled up the middle effectively and used their active man-to-man defense to hold the Bears to 13 percent (2-for-16) 3-point shooting.
“I’m really pleased with the defense the young players have bought into,” said Inglese, who was born in Presque Isle.
Her father coached at the former Aroostook State Teachers College (now UMaine-Presque Isle) but moved to Connecticut shortly thereafter.
“This past week, I stopped during defensive drills and said, ‘you guys look like you’re having fun playing defense,’ and they really are,” Inglese said.
Rhode Island, which won only once last season, improved to 4-6 behind the 23-point, eight-rebound performance of post player Samantha Tabakman who, along with Lara Gaspar (10 boards) spearheaded the rebounding effort.
UMaine (1-8) suffered its fifth straight setback after clanging its way to 13 first-half points on 4-for-27 (15 percent) shooting.
The Black Bears responded with a much better effort in the second half, but were never able to erase the 27-13 halftime deficit.
“Our looks were pretty good. We had some layups, some jumpers that were wide open,” said sophomore guard Courtney Anderson of Greene. “We just have to have confidence that we’re going to make it.”
UMaine played fairly well defensively, holding URI to 33 percent shooting. However, the Rams outrebounded the Bears 52-33 and appeared to be a step quicker.
“Today we struggled with second-effort and multiple-effort play,” Barron said. “We’d get a deflection, but we wouldn’t hustle it down; they’d end up scoring on the play.”
Or a rebound would come off the rim and glance off a UMaine player’s hand, be controlled by URI, then result in a basket.
Tayra Melendez posted nine points and six rebounds for the Rams.
Junior guard Ashleigh Roberts paced UMaine with 14 points, while freshman center Anna Heise contributed seven points and four rebounds and classmate Liz Wood added six points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
Roberts was one of few bright spots offensively for UMaine, which committed a season-low 10 turnovers.
UMaine held a 7-4 lead early on after two Danielle Walczak foul shots, but URI rattled off 10 unanswered points during a protracted 18-4 run that put them on top 24-11 at the 2:21 mark.
Tabakman scored 11 points, snatched five rebounds and blocked three shots in only 11 minutes of action to pave the way for a 27-13 advantage.
“She had a fantastic game,” Barron said, “but how did we allow her to get 23 points and eight rebounds when our post players are just as capable of giving that kind of performance?”
UMaine, which went 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half, picked up the pace a bit after intermission.
Trailing 36-22, the Bears made their move when Roberts made a three-point play off a backdoor cut and a feed from Mikaela Gustafsson.
Wood rebounded her own miss and scored, but Tabakman answered for the Rams with a low-post bucket.
Sophie Weckstrom gave UMaine a lift with a 3-pointer, then a Roberts foul shot and Heise’s close-range hoop cut the deficit to 38-33 with 10:33 to play.
“I think in the first half we were shooting a lot of threes and stuff,” Roberts said. “We started going to the basket.”
However, URI regained its defensive composure and put together a 9-1 run that pushed the lead to 13 and thwarted the Bears’ comeback bid.
“The real problem is, we’d get it back down to five and we’d have multiple chances to tie the game, take a lead,” Barron said. “You’re just two possessions away from doing that and we give up 15 second-chance opportunities.”
He was exaggerating, but URI had 19 offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.
The Rams used Tabakman often during the UMaine rally. She scored eight straight points and 10 of 12 during one key stretch.
“I thought there were several possessions it was just way too easy to get the ball inside to her,” Barron said. “We just played behind and late on her.”
URI had its leading scorer, Emilie Cloutier (10.4 points per game), for only four minutes. She re-aggravated an ankle injury early and was not able to return.
“For us to win without her and to win on the road I thought was really spectacular for them,” Inglese said.