BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine women’s basketball team might have faced months of regret after a crushing overtime loss to Hartford in the America East quarterfinals.
On Wednesday night, the Black Bears made sure they’ll have at least one more positive experience upon which to build for next season.
Coach Richard Barron’s team earned only the third postseason victory in program history, posting a convincing 77-47 victory over Bucknell in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational at the Cross Insurance Center.
“I don’t think any of us like the way that we went out in the conference tournament,” said UMaine senior Ashleigh Roberts. “We thought that it was over and to get a second chance to redeem ourselves, and for me to get a chance to play with these girls one more time, at least, we’re very grateful for that opportunity.”
UMaine (17-14), the No. 7 seed in the East Region, heads back on the road Saturday or Sunday to play No. 6 Fairfield (Conn.), which beat No. 3 Bryant 90-86 in double overtime on Wednesday.
Bucknell of the Patriot League, the No. 2 seed, closed out the season at 16-14.
UMaine played gritty player-to-player defense, rebounded effectively and showed off crisp, unselfish offensive execution. The Bears held the Bison to 31 percent shooting and helped force 15 turnovers that led directly to 21 points.
UMaine outrebounded the visitors 38-33 and sparkled at times on offense. The Bears connected on 12 of 24 shots from the 3-point arc and shot 49 percent (31-for-63) overall, racking up 28 assists on 31 field goals.
Barron said he had encouraged his players to make a statement about their personal and collective determination moving forward.
“We were challenging them. It doesn’t just mean something because we’re playing today, it means something because we’re trying to change our approach to the culture of [UMaine] women’s basketball,” Barron said.
Liz Wood paced UMaine with 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Mikaela Gustafson posted 13 points and nine rebounds, while Lauren Bodine tossed in 11 points and Roberts chipped in with 10 points, three assists, two steals and two blocks, while Chantel Charles dished out five assists.
Charles spoke to the importance of having the opportunity to play another game this season.
“After the Hartford game, I don’t know, I felt like I was depressed,” she said. “When I found out that we had another chance … is one of the best feelings in the world, playing against with Ash and the rest of our team. The season’s not over.”
Shelby Romine led Bucknell with 15 points and five rebounds, while Audrey Dotson netted 14 points with six rebounds.
The Bears led by 12 points early in the second half when they turned up the intensity. Gustafsson hit a 10-foot leaner, before Charles and Wood scored off each other’s passes on cuts through the paint.
Bodine drilled a 3-pointer after a steal by Wood and a Sophie Weckstrom assist, but Claire Maree O’Bryan halted the run with two free throws for Bucknell. However, Wood scored on an offensive rebound, then snipped a 3-pointer off a Courtney Anderson assist to give UMaine a commanding 57-33 lead with 12:15 remaining.
The Bison never got closer than 20 after that.
“I think the fun part for us is when we’re executing the things we’re supposed to execute and we working together and we’re clicking,” Wood said. “I think we have really good chemistry on the court and I think that’s when it shows.”
UMaine was without senior guard Cherrish Wallace, who had returned home to attend a funeral, according to Barron. He did not know her status for Saturday’s game.
The Black Bears played a strong first 20 minutes and were rewarded with a 38-27 halftime lead.
UMaine contained the Bison with their defense, which challenged its repeated drives to the basket. The Bears also did a good job of limiting second shots with aggressive rebounding.
“I thought our defense was pretty solid,” Barron said. “We got some steals and did turn those into points. They were important baskets, too, they were momentum baskets.”
The defense came to the forefront during the last 13 minutes of the first half as UMaine held the Bison to 3-for-14 shooting during a span of nearly six minutes. The Bears used a 13-2 run to take the lead for good.