BANGOR, Maine — The perimeter shots weren’t falling with frequency for the University of Maine women’s basketball team on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, Bella Swan helped ignite the offense from the inside out.
The senior forward scored seven points during a key second-quarter surge on her way to a career-best 18, helping the Black Bears earn a 65-55 America East victory over the University of Maryland Baltimore County in front of 2,000-plus fans at the Cross Insurance Center.
Swan’s aggressiveness and athleticism around the basket, combined with a gritty defensive effort against UMBC’s Taylor McCarley, helped coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (11-6, 2-0 AE) register their 12th consecutive home win.
“I think she brings a lot of energy and her athleticism,” Barron said of Swan, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College.
“She literally plays at a higher level than anybody else on her team,” Barron added, referring to her jumping ability.
Swan also contributed eight rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and a steal in 32 minutes to headline a balanced offensive output.
Senior Liz Wood logged another double-double with 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, classmate Lauren Bodine tossed in 12 points and junior Sigi Koizar added 11 points and four assists. Senior Mikaela Gustafsson chipped in with eight points, four rebounds and four assists.
UMBC (10-6, 1-2 AE) was led by the aggressive and efficient play of Capree Garner, who poured in a game-high 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting. McCarley and Pandora Wilson (9 points) chipped in with 11 points each.
UMaine outrebounded UMBC 41-33 and used a combination of its 2-3 matchup zone, player-to-player and 1-3-1 trapping zone defenses to hold the Retrievers to 36 percent shooting (22-for-61).
UMBC had built an early 13-4 advantage behind Garner, who scored eight consecutive points on drives to the basket.
“I thought we played pretty good early in the game and we kind of went at them hard and that’s what we talked about doing,” said UMBC coach Phil Stern. “We haven’t played well up here in the last couple years.”
Koizar helped energize UMaine and the crowd with a pair of 3-pointers late in the quarter. The first of those baskets at the 2:01 mark ended a UMaine scoreless drought of 6:29.
“It just was hard to get a flow. Our shooting wasn’t very good or consistent,” said Barron, whose team shot 36 percent (22-for-61) overall and 27 percent (7-for-26) from the 3-point arc.
“We got a double-digit win without our leading scorer (Koizar, who was 2-for-11) having a good game at all, without a very good shooting performance from 3-(point range),” he added.
Trailing 18-12, the Black Bears finally found some life in the second quarter behind the play of Swan and Wood. The pair combined for 11 points, three steals and two assists during a critical 14-0 surge.
Swan opened the run with a conventional three-point play, including a turnaround shot from down low. Wood then made a steal and scored in transition off a Koizar feed.
Swan kept it going after a UMBC turnover against a sideline trap as she banked in an elbow jumper off a pass from Chantel Charles, who then fed Wood for a fast-break layup after another steal by Wood to give UMaine a 21-18 lead.
“We needed a lot more energy, a faster, quicker tempo, and (were) looking to score more,” Swan said.
“I’m looking to score more, attacking the basket, getting rebounds,” she added. “I’m just more active and I understand the offense more (than last season).”
Bodine’s 3-pointer and an elbow jumper by Wood extended the lead to eight points before a turnover led to Garner’s runner as the horn sounded, trimming UMaine’s lead to 26-20 at halftime.
“We can be playing really well and executing really well and the shots just aren’t falling, so I think a big part of our run in the second quarter was our defense,” Wood said. “We got some turnovers and got some easy baskets in transition.”
The Black Bears weren’t able to put the Retrievers away until the last two minutes of the contest.
Bodine sandwiched back-to-back 3-pointers around two McCarley foul shots to end the third quarter, then Gustafsson scored from underneath early in the fourth to give UMaine its largest lead at 49-35.
Even so, UMBC eventually closed the gap to 55-49 on Garner’s runner with 2:40 remaining.
However, Garner missed both ends of a double bonus only nine seconds later after a UMaine turnover and the hosts executed well down the stretch to close out the victory.
With two players out injured, UMBC utilized only seven players in the game. Its starters accounted for all but 15 of 200 player-minutes.
“We’re missing two kids. I don’t know if that makes a difference, but it certainly would help with the fatigue factor,” Stern said.
The 5-foot-11 Swan was a difficult matchup at times for UMBC’s taller and bigger frontcourt players.
“She’s a bouncy kind of player that we have trouble with,” said Stern, “an athletic kid that could get a tip-in like she did and get an ‘and-one’ or get a running start and get a really athletic offensive rebound. We struggle with kids like that and she did a good job.”