Junior forward Maeve Carroll made her first start in a playoff game on Wednesday for the University of Maine women’s basketball team and it was an impressive one.
Carroll scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had nine assists in UMaine’s 78-66 victory over Vermont in their America East quarterfinal victory at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
She played 37 minutes, just four fewer than she played in last season’s three America East Tournament playoff games combined.
The 17-14 Black Bears now focus their attention on 16-14 UMass Lowell while moving to the 85-year-old Memorial Gymnasium for the second time in as many seasons.
The Professional Bull Riders tour has taken over the Cross Insurance Center again this year which prompted the move to The Pit.
Last year, UMaine spotted Albany a 19-9 first-period lead before roaring back to earn a 66-51 semifinal victory in front of 1,233 fans in Orono.
“We’re very excited to play in The Pit,” said Carroll. “We will have the whole place rocking. I don’t think any [opposing] teams are used to playing in that kind of environment. That atmosphere is really an advantage for us.”
The Black Bears practice in the Pit and are accustomed to its nuances.
“We’re used to the rims,” said Carroll, who explained that the lighting isn’t as bright as at the Cross Insurance Center and the court doesn’t seem as long.
The only negative about playing at the Pit is also a positive: The noise level produced by the enthusiastic fans.
“We can’t hear each other talking on defense,” said Carroll. “So we’re going to have to figure out our slides and our movement [without being able to communicate verbally].”
The second-seeded Black Bears, winners of nine in a row, were dealt yet another blow in an injury-ravaged season when freshman guard Anna Kahelin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final 22 seconds of the victory over Vermont.
She became the fifth player this season to suffer a knee injury. UMaine has only eight available players and two, Kira Barra and Gaddy Lefft, are limited by knee and Achilles tendon injuries, respectively, they are dealing with.
“Early on in the season, we all came together and said, ‘We can still do this.’ We stayed positive,” Carroll said. “We’re all really thinking about Anna right now and hope for the best for her.”
The third-seeded River Hawks also lost a catalyst in senior guard Ren’Cia Rolling, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 25.
The River Hawks got off to a 7-0 start in the conference but, after Rolling went down, they finished at 4-5 in America East. That enabled the Black Bears to leapfrog them into second place and earn homecourt advantage for Sunday’s game.
But the youthful River Hawks have bounced back and bring a three-game winning streak into the game.
Sunday’s winner will take on the winner of the semifinal between top seed Stony Brook and fourth seed Binghamton.
UMaine and UMass Lowell each won at home in their two regular-season meetings.
“I feel good about my game right now but Lowell is a completely different team,” said Carroll, an All-America East second team selection in her first season as a starter. “They’re really athletic and really good defensively. They’re aggressive on defense and that has given us problems in the past.
“We are going to have to box out,” said Carroll. “We’re going to be ready because we know they are coming here to beat us.”