Rejuvenated: UMaine women’s basketball team excited for ‘second chance’ with WBI tournament

Posted March 18, 2014, at 1:58 p.m.
Last modified March 18, 2014, at 2:24 p.m.

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In this January 2014 file photo, Maine's Cherrish Wallace (left) studies the Vermont defense during first-half action at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Terry Farren|BDN
In this January 2014 file photo, Maine's Cherrish Wallace (left) studies the Vermont defense during first-half action at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
In this November 2013 file photo, Maine's Ashleigh Roberts (center) drives to the basket between Green Bay's Breannah Ranger (left) and Ellen Edison during the game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
In this November 2013 file photo, Maine's Ashleigh Roberts (center) drives to the basket between Green Bay's Breannah Ranger (left) and Ellen Edison during the game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — There was only a 24-hour span during which the University of Maine women’s basketball team thought its season was over.

That came in the wake of the Black Bears’ 63-62 overtime loss to Hartford on March 7 in the quarterfinals of the America East tournament at Albany, N.Y.

Once they found out that they might have a chance to play in a postseason tournament, the Black Bears continued to practice — just in case.

“We’ve kind of been in like this weird position where we’ve been practicing and working out, but we didn’t know if we’re actually going to play again,” said sophomore Liz Wood.

UMaine’s optimism has been rewarded.

On Monday night, coach Richard Barron’s team learned it had been selected to participate in the 16-team Women’s Basketball Invitational. UMaine is the No. 7 seed in the East Region and will host a first-round game 7 p.m. Wednesday against No. 2 seed Bucknell at the Cross Insurance Center.

“You always hope for the best, so we were working out and practicing like we were going to play again, and we got a bid, so we’re really excited,” Wood said.

The Black Bears (16-14) finished fourth in the America East regular-season standings, while the Bison (16-13) were the fourth-place finishers in the Patriot League. Bucknell lost to eventual runner-up Holy Cross in the quarterfinals.

UMaine is among three America East teams competing in the postseason, joining league champion Albany, which faces Big 12 titlist West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and conference runner-up Stony Brook, which plays Michigan on Friday in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

It is the UMaine program’s first postseason appearance since coach Sharon Versyp’s squad lost to West Virginia in the 2005 WNIT.

“To me, it feels kind of a second chance,” Wood said.

“It breathes a lot of life back into you as a team and as a player, and it’s just really exciting,” she added. “It’s going to be fun getting back out there to play together, especially with our seniors, giving them another chance.”

Bucknell is one of four Patriot League teams playing in the postseason. Champion Army earned the NCAA automatic bid, while regular-season champion Navy and American University are both in the WNIT.

The Bison have not been involved in a postseason game since 2008, when they made an NCAA tournament appearance.

The UMaine-Bucknell winner will advance to meet the winner of the game between No. 3 Bryant University of Smithfield, R.I., and No. 6 Fairfield University in Connecticut in a second-round contest on either Saturday or Sunday.

Suddenly, a season characterized by significant improvement — despite several gut-wrenching losses — will continue. It will provide the Black Bears with a chance to gain some valuable postseason experience.

UMaine was awarded a first-round home game after agreeing to pay a $10,000 guarantee. All the schools in the tournament had the opportunity to do so.

UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech explained the WBI chooses the hosts schools based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, the institution’s desire and ability to host, attendance stats, travel logistics and tournament seed.

UMaine, which also must pay the game officials, expects to cover its costs through ticket and merchandise sales. There is a possibility UMaine could host a future game or games in the tournament, depending upon game outcomes.

Visiting teams in the first two rounds receive a $7,000 guarantee to help cover travel and lodging expenses. That increases to $9,000 for the last two rounds.

According to the WBI website, the teams were selected and seeded based on their Rating Percentage Index, Sagarin rating, strength of schedule, “quality” wins and end-of-season trends.

UMaine is No. 228 in the NCAA’s most recent RPI, while Bucknell is ranked No. 137 among 347 Division I women’s teams.

Tickets, $10 for adults; $5 for youth and seniors, are available through Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.

Season-ticket holders may purchase their seats at the Cross Center box office 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. until game time Wednesday or by calling 561-8333.

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