BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine didn’t wait around and see how things were going to go during Tuesday night’s matchup against the University of Vermont.
Instead, the Black Bears dictated the tone from the outset.
Senior guards Cherrish Wallace and Ashleigh Roberts set a hard-charging pace during the first two minutes, staking UMaine to an early lead on the way to a 92-62 America East women’s basketball victory at the Cross Insurance Center.
Roberts and Wallace combined for 29 points, 14 assists and three steals with an aggressive mindset that sparked coach Richard Barron’s team (9-8, 3-1 AE) to its third straight win.
“Today we just figured that we had to come out with a good tempo,” said Wallace, who dished out 10 assists to go with her 13 points. “The first few minutes is always the most important minutes of the game.”
UMaine won its third consecutive league game for the first time since the 2004-2005 season. In the meantime, the Bears enjoyed the highest offensive output for a UMaine team since a 92-62 victory over Yale on Jan. 11, 2003.
“Our coach has been talking about coming out and being the aggressor,” said sophomore forward Liz Wood, who scored a game-high 22 points, 15 in the first half, with six rebounds and three steals.
“We had a bad habit of coming out and kind of feeling our way through the game,” she added. “I think today we did a good job of coming out and establishing ourselves.”
Vermont slipped to 4-12 (1-2 AE) with its seventh consecutive loss.
UMaine took advantage of its transition opportunities, but also was able to get the ball inside on its way to scoring 52 points in the paint.
It was a contrast to its previous two games, during which UMaine connected for 23 3-pointers.
“This is a game where we were attacking the rim, attacking the paint, both off the dribble and off the post feed, the cuts in our offense,” Barron said. “That led to high-percentage shots, which was a big part of it.”
Roberts netted 16 points to go with five rebounds and four assists for the Bears, who shot 54 percent (37-for-69) from the floor.
Sophomore Chantel Charles tallied a career-best 11 points while freshman Sigi Koizar contributed five points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Bears, who had only 11 turnovers, also got strong efforts from sophomore post players Anna Heise (9 points, 4 rebounds) and Mikaela Gustafsson (8 points, 4 rebounds).
“I thought both Mikaela and Anna did a much better job, both defensively and in terms of rebounding, and they finished around the basket,” Barron said.
Vermont hung around in the first half by hitting four 3-pointers and grabbing nine offensive rebounds, but simply couldn’t establish any consistency on the defensive end.
The Catamounts also committed 22 turnovers after which the Bears scored 31 points. Kristina White paced Vermont with 15 points and Kaylea Britton posted 10.
The Bears attacked right off the opening tip, scoring four baskets in the first two minutes. Roberts scored off a back-door cut on a feed from Wallace, then Roberts made a steal that led to a Wallace runner.
Wallace’s aggressive push in transition set up another Roberts layup before Wood made a steal that eventually led to her 3-pointer at the 18:04 mark.
“I like to run a little bit and those guys now, when they’re playing with me, they see me running and they’re doing the same thing, so it’s a good feeling because I can see them when they’re cutting to the basket,” Wallace said.
The Catamounts were within six at 15-9 three minutes later, but Charles sandwiched 3-pointers around a low-post bucket by Britton and Gustafsson converted a spin move in the paint to give UMaine a 23-11 lead at the 11:21 mark.
The Catamounts hit a couple of 3-pointers early in the second half and trimmed the deficit to 52-43, but the Black Bears had an answer, a 16-4 surge.
UMaine extended the lead to as many as 34 points.