BANGOR, Maine — When Sigi Koizar blends in with a solid all-around game, the University of Maine women’s basketball team is usually pretty good.
When the junior guard asserts herself as she did on Wednesday night, there’s virtually no stopping the Black Bears.
Koizar went 8-for-14 from the floor including four 3-pointers, connecting for a game-high 24 points to help UMaine pull away for a 61-43 America East victory over the University of Hartford.
“She just knows how to control a basketball game, and I don’t think she ever lets missing shots affect her,” said Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti. “She’s always confident in her offensive ability and then she makes things happen on defense.”
Coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (15-7, 6-1 AE) registered their 15th consecutive win at the Cross Insurance Center with another strong defensive effort that held the Hawks (8-12, 4-3 AE) to 19 second-half points.
Senior Bella Swan connected for 14 points and provided four rebounds, three assists and two steals for UMaine, which also received eight points, a game-best 12 rebounds, five steals and three assists from senior Liz Wood.
Mikaela Gustafsson contributed eight points and Sophie Weckstrom dished out six assists for the winners.
“I thought Sigi was much better this game in terms of being fluid and not overthinking and it showed up in the box score,” Barron said.
Katelyn Skinner paced Hartford with nine points and Christie Michals added eight points.
UMaine outrebounded Hartford 31-26 and forced many of the Hawks’ 19 turnovers, which led to 23 points. The Black Bears outscored the visitors 26-6 in the paint.
It was the first meeting between the teams since Hartford knocked UMaine out of the America East tourney in last season’s semifinals.
“I wouldn’t say it was out of our mind,” Wood said of avenging the loss, “but it definitely wasn’t our main focus.”
Hartford was hampered by the loss of leading scorer and floor leader Deanna Mayza. The junior point guard has missed the last five games because of a shoulder injury sustained the game at Binghamton.
UMaine played smothering post defense, limiting Hartford’s ability to score anywhere near the basket.
“We knew coming in that their posts were a big part of their offense,” Wood said.
“I think we did a good job especially in our zone in keeping it out of the high post, limiting their production there. That’s a big part of their offense and I don’t think they really got anything out of that today.”
After a couple of turnovers, UMaine finally established cushion with a 13-3 surge during the first six minutes of the third quarter.
Swan scored six of those points, starting the run with a close-range basket off a Gustafsson assist, then benefitting from a penetrate-and-dish move by Koizar to score again from underneath.
Swan followed with a 17-foot jumper set up by Koizar, who came up with a steal and a fast-break layup to make it 39-29 with 4:01 left in the period.
“Anytime the ball’s in her hands on a fast break, especially one-on-one, that’s a good place for us to be,” Wood said of Koizar. “I think our defense did a really good job in getting her those opportunities and we turned them over a lot in the third quarter.”
Koizar ended the quarter by sandwiching 3-pointers around a long jumper by Hartford’s Darby Lee to push the lead to 13.
“I had to work on shooting the ball more and especially getting into my shooting range, because the past couple games I’ve been shooting it deep and my shooting percentage went down and I wasn’t really on balance,” Koizar said.
It was still a 10-point game with 7:06 remaining, but the Black Bears rattled off 12 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
“We felt at halftime that we were an offensive run away from putting the game away,” Barron said. “We felt like our defense was going to be pretty solid, and it was.”
UMaine hits the road for Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Binghamton, which will again host the first two rounds of the conference tournament in March.