ORONO, Maine — The University of Hartford women’s basketball team has a knack for making its opponents play ugly with its gritty man-to-man defense.
That didn’t bode well for an offensively challenged University of Maine team Wednesday night.
The Hawks consistently disrupted the Black Bears’ offensive flow, harassing UMaine into another tough offensive night while earning a 52-37 America East victory at Alfond Arena.
Coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (1-14, 0-3 AE) suffered their 11th consecutive loss. UMaine continued to exhibit a propensity for turnovers and was unable to establish any consistency on the offensive end.
“They like that kind of slug-it-out game, a lot of execution,” Barron said.
“I can’t be terribly disappointed in our defense, holding them to 52 points,” he added, but the biggest problem is that we’re not scoring.”
Hartford (10-6, 1-2 AE) opened the second half on a 12-3 run, then answered a 6-0 UMaine spurt with 10 unanswered points to open up the advantage in what had been a relatively close game.
Nikkia Smith paced Hartford with 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Daphne Elliott and Alyssa Englert each contributed eight points and five assists for the Hawks, who shot 42 percent (21-for-50) from the field.
Sophomore post player Danielle Walczak was one of few bright spots for UMaine. She tossed in 15 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Freshman Chantel Charles posted seven points, three rebounds and two steals, while classmate Lauren Bodine contributed six points and four rebounds.
“We didn’t do a very good job moving the ball, but a lot of that is on ourselves,” Walczak said. “They did do a good job defending. They’re aggressive in the passing lanes and they do a good job packing the paint.”
The Black Bears shot 35 percent (14-for-40) and committed 20 turnovers that led to 16 points for the Hawks. Hartford had 17 turnovers of its own, which UMaine converted into eight points.
Barron is disappointed with UMaine’s lack of focus and execution on the offensive end.
“There were several possessions where we didn’t have any real direction,” Barron said. “That’s on me. I’ve got to figure out why that is. We’re just out there kind of dribbling the ball with our head down.”
The Hawks put the game pretty much out of reach with the 10-0 burst that covered 1:39. Englert kicked it off with an 8-footer from the lane, then Hartford cashed in a UMaine turnover on Smith’s 16-footer.
Another turnover led to a 3-pointer by Elliott, then Smith completed a traditional three-point play to put the Hawks on top 47-28 with 9:53 remaining.
“I thought defensively our focus was really good and it’s been really good the past three games,” said Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti. “And it has to be, when we’re struggling to put points up on the board right now.”
UMaine, playing its first home game since Nov. 24, was without freshman center Anna Heise (6.4 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game) for the fourth straight game because of an ankle injury. Classmate Sophie Weckstrom (3.0 ppg, 1.2 apg), a point guard, missed her second game in a row, also because of an ankle problem.
The Hawks went into the locker room at halftime with a 25-17 lead because of their scrappy defense and the ability to get some open shots and knock them down.
However, Walczak scored off a high-low pass from Corinne Wellington on the first possession of the second half to make it a six-point contest.
Hartford answered by picking up the pace and attacking in transition. Taylor Clark scored from underneath off an Elliott feed, then Alex Hall drained a 3-pointer off an inside-out pass.
Smith’s 14-foot turnaround from the lane capped a 7-0 flurry that gave the Hawks a 32-19 lead with 16:24 left.
“I thought they extended their pressure more in the second half,” Barron said. “That’s something [opposing] coaches sense that they can do, [thinking] can we do that and not get beat off the dribble? Obviously, they could, because we didn’t have anybody that got to the rim the entire night.”
The Bears had difficulty trying to get into their offense in the face of Hartford’s aggressive man-to-man defense. UMaine committed 10 first-half turnovers, three of which came on shot-clock violations.
The hosts shot 33 percent (8-for-24) from the floor, led by eight points from Walczak, who also missed a handful of good looks.
Hartford had some success against the Bears’ 2-3 zone because of its ability to patiently work the ball around the perimeter. The Hawks went only 3-for-13 from 3-point range, but also got the ball into the paint a handful of times.
The Hawks led by as many as nine points at 19-10 after a 3-pointer and two foul shots by Daphne Elliott, but the Bears countered on a nifty baseline penetration move by Charles and Bodine’s 3-pointer shortly after she had made a steal.
However, Hartford scored six of the last eight points over the final four minutes to build the eight-point cushion. Eight different players scored in the half for the Hawks, who outrebounded the hosts 16-13.