BANGOR, Maine — There was a distinct postseason atmosphere at the Cross Insurance Center on Sunday afternoon.
And the University of Maine women’s basketball team gave a playoff-caliber performance for a crowd of 3,231 at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears played suffocating interior defense, limiting two-time conference player of the year Shereesha Richards to eight points while grinding out a 65-53 America East victory.
“I just think it was great to see such a big crowd for us,” said UMaine senior Mikaela Gustafsson. “It gives us a lot of energy just seeing everybody here and cheering us on.”
The fans had plenty to cheer about as UMaine (21-7, 12-1 AE) racked up its 18th consecutive home win and handed UAlbany (21-4, 12-1 AE) its first conference loss of the season.
“What was so impressive to me in terms of the evolution of our team is the attitude we played this game with, the approach that we brought from the beginning,” Barron said. “We just embraced it.”
Seniors Liz Wood and Gustafsson spent the day working to keep the Richards in check on the back end of UMaine’s 2-3 matchup zone.
“She’s a great player and if you give her a second of space, one opportunity, she’s going to capitalize on it,” said Wood, who had some such lapses in the first meeting.
Richards finished with eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and made three steals.
“Any time we lose games, it’s because she doesn’t get touches. Period,” said UAlbany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
The Great Danes hung tough behind the offensive play of Imani Tate (22 points, 3 steals) and Zakiya Saunders (13 points, 4 assists), but their 35 percent second-half shooting could not match the Black Bears’ production (52 percent).
Wood (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) and senior Lauren Bodine (14 points) each knocked down four 3-pointers amidst a 13-for-23 (57 percent) effort from beyond the arc as UMaine shot 49 percent overall.
“We’ve been waiting for that game all year,” Barron said of the 3-point barrage.
“I think it comes back to the mentality that our kids brought to the game,” he added.
Junior guard Sigi Koizar led a balanced attack with 15 points, while Bella Swan contributed eight points, five rebounds and five assists. Sophie Weckstrom (6 points) handed out seven assists and Gustafsson added six points, four rebounds and three assists.
UMaine produced 22 assists on its 26 baskets.
“We can’t let people make 13 3’s, let alone shoot 22 of them,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
The hosts seized the momentum midway through the third quarter after Richards scored on an offensive rebound at the 4:45 mark. UAlbany trailed only 42-41, but would not score again for 4 minutes, 40 seconds.
“I thought we were much more engaged defensively than we were the last time we played them,” Barron said.
UMaine mounted a 9-0 run that began with Swan’s basket from the paint in transition. It closed out the quarter with Koizar’s basket from underneath, a baseline scoop shot by Anna Heise and a Weckstrom 3-pointer that made it 51-41.
UAlbany fought back within four at 57-53 with 2:35 left, but Bodine’s 3-pointer and Wood’s eight-footer from the baseline kept the cushion intact.