Portland High School is a team that thrives on energy and momentum.
On Thursday afternoon, it took the Bulldogs barley four minutes to change the complexion of their biggest game of the season to date.
Elizabeth Yugu scored four points to help spark a decisive 15-0 scoring surge to end the first half, setting the tone for No. 2 Portland’s 54-42 Class AA North semifinal victory over Bangor at Cross Insurance Arena.
Portland (17-3) advances to play the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 1 Oxford Hills (18-1) and No. 5 Windham (12-7) in Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship game at Cross Arena.
Third-seeded Bangor closes out the season at 13-7.
Ultimately, it was Portland’s quickness and aggressiveness that proved Bangor’s undoing. Spearheaded by junior guard Amanda Kabantu, the Bulldogs were able not only to attack the Rams’ 1-2-2 zone off the dribble, they also were first to the boards and earned themselves numerous opportunities because of their offensive rebounding prowess.
Bangor didn’t get too many second chances at the offensive end and could not match Portland’s quickness on defense.
Kabantu was the catalyst for Portland, scoring a game-high 20 points with her explosive drives to the basket and her rebounding prowess. Among her dozen or so rebounds were several offensive boards.
Gemima Potema scored 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Davina Kabantu, Amanda’s cousin, and Kiera Eubanks tallied six points each.
Bangor exhibited good scoring balance led by nine points and five rebounds from freshman Abbie Quinn and eight from senior Rowan Andrews. Maggie Cowperthwaite contributed six points, while Emmie Streams and Libby Fleming (five rebounds) posted five points each.
This game turned quickly late in the second half.
Bangor appeared to be finding some traction as a short jumper by Cowperthwaite, Andrews’ driving hoop and a convention three-point play by Streams off an eight-footer from the paint staked the Rams to a 19-14 advantage with 4:51 left in the second quarter.
Portland made an emphatic response.
Yugu ignited the Bulldogs’ rally with a steal and a layup, then Amanda Kabantu sank two free throws and Motema’s rebound basket resulted in a conventional three-point play that put Portland back in front 21-19 at the 2:51 mark.
Bangor was relegated mostly to one-and-done offensive possessions and had to work hard to run its offense against Portland’s aggressive player-to-player defense.
The Bulldogs then put together a final charge over the last 1:40 of the period. Davina Kabantu scored from the lane off a Motema pass, then Eubanks stuck a 10-footer.
After Bangor’s sixth turnover of the half, Yugu made two free throws and Davina Kabantu capped the 15-0 rally with a fast-break layup off a Motema feed to send Portland into the locker room leading 29-19.
The Bulldogs stretched their advantage to 16 with a spurt early in the second half. Amanda Kabantu exerted her will with her willingness to attack the rim off the dribble.
Bangor was unable to put together enough offensive consistency to make a run until the outcome had been decided in the closing minute.
The teams split their regular-season meetings, with Portland winning the season opener 55-44 on Dec. 6 and Bangor taking a 49-36 decision on Jan. 9 in Bangor.
It was the Rams’ second straight regional semifinal loss.