Fairfield University dominated the first half on Sunday afternoon, laying the groundwork for a 63-50 victory over the University of Maine in the Women’s Basketball Invitational at Fairfield, Conn.
The Stags (22-10) shot 75 percent in the first half to build a 26-point advantage on their way to the WBI East Region final later this week against either Eastern Michigan or Illinois-Chicago.
“I didn’t think we had the right type of intensity to start the game and when things didn’t go our way, we didn’t respond,” coach Richard Barron told Don Shields of the Black Bear Sports Network.
The Black Bears close out the season at 17-15, having won 13 more games than during the 2012-2013 season.
Katie Cizynski was a force in the paint for Fairfield. She made 10 of 13 field goals on her way to a game-high 26 points and also finished with 12 rebounds and five assists.
Alexys Vazquez provided 10 points and six rebounds while Brittany Obi-Tabot added eight points for the Stags, who wound up shooting 53 percent (21-for-40) from the floor and also converted 18 of 21 free throws.
Senior Ashleigh Roberts capped off her career by pouring in 20 of her season-high 24 points in the second half to spearhead UMaine’s comeback attempt.
“She was going to go down swinging and I think she was embarrassed not only by the team’s performance, but her performance, the first half,” Barron said. “She saw herself as the leader and it was her responsibility to get this team going and she did.”
Sophomore Liz Wood posted 11 points, seven steals, six rebounds and two assists. UMaine, which also received six points and four rebounds from junior Courtney Anderson of Greene, shot only 2-for-16 (13 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Bears were much more effective at both ends in the second half, with Roberts leading the charge. She scored 11 points during a 14-2 surge that got UMaine back within striking distance.
Roberts opened the run with two foul shots, then stuck a 3-pointer and hit a layup before Christelle Akon-Akech sank two free throws for Fairfield. Anderson drove in for a layup, then Roberts sandwiched a foul shot and a layup around a drive to the hoop by Sigi Koizar as the Bears cut the deficit to 46-35 with 9:39 to play.
However, UMaine would get no closer.
“As poorly as we played in the first half, I thought the group that started the second half (Roberts, Wood, Gustafsson, Anderson and Koizar) really showed a lot of intensity, a lot of heart, coming back,” Barron said.
The Stags took control from the outset and slowly manufactured a 37-13 advantage. The offensive futility matched the Bears’ lowest of the season, the previous time coming at Syracuse.
Fairfield picked apart the UMaine defense, shooting 15-for-20 (75 percent) from the field. The hosts also went 6-for-8 from the foul line.
Cizynski owned the paint, connecting for seven of her nine shots en route to 16 points. She also pulled down nine rebounds to help Fairfield generate a 17-10 rebounding edge.
“Fairfield played a great first half. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” Barron said.
“They’ve been a postseason team and team that’s been playing in those meaningful games and I thought that showed the way the game started out,” he added.
The Black Bears were unable to generate any kind of consistency or momentum on the offensive end during the first 20 minutes. UMaine clanged its way to 22 percent shooting, hitting only six of 27 shots.
UMaine missed all nine of its 3-point attempts and committed nine turnovers that led to 11 Fairfield points. The Stags also turned it over nine times, but the Bears did not convert any of those into points.