Two teams that reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, and another that lost in the first round of that event, headline the University of Maine women’s basketball schedule for the 2018-19 season.
“We aren’t playing a top-five team like we did at Mississippi State last year, but, top to bottom, this schedule could be tougher than last year’s,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said.
One of those Sweet 16 opponents will be Duke University, coached by former UMaine head coach Joanne Palombo McCallie.
Her Blue Devils went 24-9 last season, and beat Belmont and Georgia in the NCAA Tournament before falling to No. 1 UConn 72-59. They will take on UMaine at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor the night of Nov. 15.
It will be Palombo McCallie’s first visit to Bangor with Duke since 2009.
Duke beat UMaine 69-39 in North Carolina last season.
UMaine’s other Sweet 16 opponent is North Carolina State, which beat Elon and Maryland in the NCAA tourney before losing to No. 4 Mississippi State 71-57. Mississippi State lost to Notre Dame in the NCAA title game 61-58.
North Carolina State, 26-9 a year ago, will host UMaine Dec. 15.
The other NCAA Tournament team on the schedule is Wisconsin-Green Bay, which went 29-4 including an 89-77 loss to No. 10 Minnesota in the first round of the tourney. UMaine will visit Green Bay the night of Nov. 20.
UMaine also could play NCAA Tournament team North Carolina A&T in the U.S. Naval Academy Tournament (Nov. 24-25), as well as host Navy (25-8) and Pennsylvania (22-9), both participants in last year’s WNIT.
Pairings for the Navy tournament haven’t been set yet.
Other WNIT teams on the Black Bears’ schedule include 18-15 Toledo, 24-10 Fordham and 18-11 Harvard. UMaine upended Harvard in Bangor 76-51 last season.
UMaine also will play in the Fordham tournament Dec. 28 and 29 along with Middle Tennessee State (18-13) and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (17-13), also both WNIT entries from a year ago. The Black Bears will face Fordham in the opening round.
Other nonconference games are at the University of North Carolina (15-16) Dec. 2, Northeastern University (16-15) Dec. 22, Bryant (9-21) Nov. 13 and home against Brown (15-12) Dec. 8.
Even though Bryant went just 9-21 a year ago, it took UMaine in overtime 70-68 in Bangor.
The home game with Toledo is set for Nov. 10. Toledo rallied to beat UMaine 65-64 in overtime in Ohio last season.
UMaine will open its season with an exhibition game against Stonehill College on Nov. 3 at the Cross Insurance Center. Stonehill thumped the Black Bears 68-49 in an exhibition last year and went on to go 29-4 and reach the NCAA Division II Elite 8.
UMaine opens defense of its America East Tournament regular season and tournament titles against New Hampshire Jan. 2 at the Cross Insurance Center.
UMaine went 23-10 a year ago, losing to Texas 83-54 in the NCAA Tournament.
UMaine will return four of its five starters and five of its top six scorers.
“There are no easy games,” Vachon said. “It’s tough and we’re on the road a lot. But it will work out next year when there will be a lot of return games (at home).”
Vachon said challenging nonconference schedules have prepared the team for league play the past few years, “and we’re going to continue to do it.”
“If you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” she said. “It’s something we love to do. We love to compete.”
Vachon said it will be an “interesting year.”
“We have a lot of kids coming back, and we surprised a lot of people last year. This year, they won’t be surprised,” Vachon said. “We’re going to get real good games from everybody. At the same time, we’ve got take it one game at a time.”
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