BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine have enjoyed considerable success over the years at their respective levels of the basketball spectrum.
Monday night, the programs met in the first game at the brand-new Cross Insurance Center to promote what is good about women’s basketball in the state of Maine.
The result was a 72-42 victory for the Division I Black Bears in front of an announced crowd of 890.
UMaine coach Richard Barron and Huskies coach Gary Fifield both believe they benefited from the first meeting between the two programs since 1986.
“For outside people, there’s a perception that Maine’s going to struggle against Southern Maine, they’re better than we are and there’s a risk of us losing a game by playing and it’s a good thing that it’s an exhibition,” Barron said in challenging those assertions.
“We tried to work on what we think we need to work on to get better this year,” he explained.
In spite of being a perennial Division III regional power and a national contender, USM was well aware it was likely to have its hands full. That is especially true of a team that lost three first-team all-conference players off last season’s 27-2 club.
“The whole purpose of this, from my standpoint, is to try to create some excitement and some buzz for Maine women’s basketball in general,” Fifield said.
“I think it’s good for both programs,” he added.
UMaine’s Division I scholarship talent and depth proved too much for the Huskies from Gorham.
Sophomore swing player Liz Wood was the catalyst for UMaine, connecting for 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (nine offensive) with five assists and two steals.
Senior Ashleigh Roberts scored 10 points with three assists and a steal for the Black Bears. All 12 players in uniform scored for UMaine, with sophomore Anna Heise providing nine points and five rebounds, while classmate Chantel Charles added eight points and five rebounds. Courtney Anderson of Greene made five steals.
Erin McNamara tossed in 12 points, snared five rebounds, handed out three assists and made two steals to lead USM. Megan Pelletier of Winslow, a former Messalonskee High School standout who transferred to USM from Thomas College in Waterville, posted 10 points and six rebounds.
“You always hate to lose, but this was a great opportunity for us to go against a team that’s filled with really talented players who are bigger and stronger than us,” McNamara said.
The Huskies more than held their own on the boards as UMaine grabbed only a 43-39 edge that included 20 offensive rebounds.
With the Bears struggling with their offensive continuity, USM was within 44-34 with 9:40 left. However, a Charles 3-pointer, Heise’s layup and an offensive rebound basket by Wood ignited a clinching 28-8 surge.
“I think we realized we had to pick up the intensity, especially on defense,” Wood said. “I think once we did that, we started making rotations, got some steals and that led to better offense for us.”
UMaine’s tight man-to-man defense pressured the Huskies into many of their 23 turnovers, which led directly to 27 points for the Bears.
The Black Bears built a 29-19 halftime lead, but their subpar shooting may have prevented the crowd from getting into the game, although Wood said the players enjoyed their first game in the Cross Center.
“We’ve practiced here, but it was really nice having the fans and I thought that was a pretty good turnout tonight for an exhibition game,” Wood said.
UMaine opens the regular season Thursday night in Bangor against North Dakota State.
Bear tracks: UMaine’s post game suffered a blow recently with an injury to senior Ali Nalivaika. The 6-foot-4 center, who had missed the previous two seasons with knee injuries that required three surgeries, has hurt her other knee and will miss the rest of the season.