BANGOR, Maine — Coach Richard Barron has talked all season about how well his team shoots during practice.
On Thursday night, the University of Maine demonstrated its scoring prowess and balance in a big game.
The Black Bears dismantled the University of New Hampshire defense with 61 percent shooting, placing four players in double figures in a 87-56 America East rout in front of 1,452 fans at the Cross Insurance Center.
“Offensively, they did whatever they wanted to do,” said UNH coach Maureen Magarity. “Whether we went man or zone, they just did really an amazing job of executing their offensive sets.”
UMaine (15-6, 7-1 AE) came out firing and put the Wildcats back on their heels. The hosts never let up, cruising to their seventh straight win, the program’s longest streak since 2005.
Junior forward Liz Wood spearheaded a cohesive offensive performance with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting and provided seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“I think today we did a better job of keeping our foot on the gas and putting them away, not letting them get a big run to get the game close again,” Wood said.
“It was a lot of fun tonight,” she added.
By virtue of the win, UMaine assumes sole possession of second place in the America East standings, setting up a pivotal matchup on Sunday afternoon at league-leading Albany (14-6, 7-0 AE). The Great Danes have won 29 consecutive regular-season conference games.
“I think we want to carry this momentum into that game, knowing that we can have a performance like that, trying to take that into Albany,” Wood said.
The Black Bears picked apart New Hampshire’s player-to-player and 2-3 zone defenses. UMaine made 31 of 51 shots behind a starting lineup that went 28-for-38 (.734).
The Bears also connected on 12 of 21 3-pointers.
Sophomore Sigi Koizar went 7-for-11 from the floor en route to 18 points and also dished out seven of UMaine’s 24 assists — on 31 baskets. Anna Heise matched a career high with 17 points, while Bella Swan contributed seven points, four rebounds and three assists.
“I think what we did today was just really special on the offensive end,” Barron said.
UMaine also outrebounded New Hampshire (14-6, 6-2 AE) 30-22 and scored 18 points as a result of 14 UNH turnovers.
Elizabeth Belanger tossed in 14 points and handed out five assists to propel the Wildcats. Kristen Anderson of Greene, the younger sister of UMaine senior Courtney Anderson, made four long, rainbow 3-pointers and finished with 14 points and three assists.
She suffered a left knee injury late in the game and did not return. Carlie Pogue chipped in with 12 points for UNH, who shot 45 percent (22-for-49) overall.
“I think that New Hampshire’s a good team and they caught us on the wrong night,” Barron said.
“When a team shoots 61 percent, it’s going to be hard to beat them,” he added.
UMaine put the game away with an 11-3 burst five minutes into the second half.
Heise got things rolling by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers from the right wing only 49 seconds apart. After a UNH timeout and miss, Koizar slashed to the hoop for a layup off a pump move.
Kristen Anderson answered with a 3-pointer for the Wildcats, but Weckstrom matched it to give UMaine a 63-36 advantage with 12:51 to play.
The Bears, whose lead was never smaller than 21 after that, eventually were up by 33 points.
“We just had a lot of open looks because they were sagging on us,” Koizar said. “After we broke the defense down, the shots were a lot easier, so we could make them at a high percentage.”
The Bears owned a 40-24 lead at intermission after shooting 62 percent (16-for-26) from the field, balancing its attack between close-range baskets and perimeter shooting.
The Wildcats demonstrated good offensive execution as well, making 11 of 23 shots (48 percent). They, too, were able to get numerous good looks in the paint and along the baseline.
The Bears, however, limited UNH’s open looks on the perimeter and the Wildcats committed eight turnovers.