The resilient University of Maine women will continue their remarkable season on Friday night.
The Black Bears used a 15-4 run spanning the third and fourth quarters on Sunday afternoon to pull away from freshmen-laden UMass Lowell 67-54 in an America East basketball semifinal played before 1,336 energetic and loud fans at the Memorial Gymnasium.
Second-seeded UMaine (18-14) earned its 10th straight win and will play 28-3 Stony Brook in Friday’s 5 p.m. title game on Long Island. It will be UMaine’s fifth consecutive championship-game appearance.
Stony Brook beat Binghamton 57-42 Sunday in the other semi.
AE Rookie of the Year Anne Simon poured in a game-high 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists to pace the Black Bears. Junior forward Maeve Carroll added 14 points, a game-high 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Maddy McVicar and Kelly Fogarty added 11 points and three steals each and Saar had eight points and four assists.
Kharis Idom’s 15 points, Jaliena Sanchez’s nine points and four assists and Bri Stiers’ seven points and 12 rebounds led 16-15 UML. Denise Solis and Tiahna Sears netted seven points each.
The Black Bears are down to just eight healthy players after freshman sixth man Anna Kahelin on Wednesday became the sixth UMaine player to be sidelined for the season, and the fifth to suffer a knee injury, during the quarterfinal win over Vermont.
All eight remaining healthy Black Bears played a role in the victory.
“I am so impressed with our team, I am so proud of them,” UMaine coach Amy Vachon said. “It is incredible what they have had to go through. [Kahelin] had been playing so well for us. It seems like we can’t catch a break.
“But they keep playing and playing. They play for each other, they love each other. It’s fun to see [different] people step up,” she added.
The Black Bears won despite being outrebounded 57-31 by the athletic River Hawks, who grabbed 26 offensive rebounds including five in one first-half sequence.
“We weren’t getting rebounds but we were emphasizing our defense and were packing it in in the paint,” said Carroll, UMaine’s tallest starter at 5-foot-11. “We wanted to make them shoot outside.”
Vachon said playing a 2-3 zone is one of the primary reasons they were outrebounded so decidedly.
“We played man-to-man the first time we played them [66-57 loss] and they kept getting to the rim on us,” Vachon said.
“We gave up a lot of rebounds but we didn’t turn the ball over and that helped us get more possessions and more good shots,” said UMaine junior point guard Dor Saar.
UMaine forced 20 UML turnovers and committed just eight, leading to a 19-12 edge in points off turnovers.
The Black Bears outscored the River Hawks 21-13 in the fourth quarter as the visitors shot just 2-for-12 from the floor and turned the ball over six times.
“We got the shots we wanted but we got tired and stopped making shots. You could see our legs leave us. Our energy waned at the most inopportune times,” UMass Lowell coach Tom Garrick said.
UMaine trailed by as many as five points in the first half but scored the last 10 points of the half, with Calais’ McVicar scoring the last eight, and the first four of the second half to manufacture a 39-27 lead.
Idom’s layup with 4:16 left in the third period capped a 12-2 spurt that pulled the determined River Hawks within two at 41-39.
That’s when the Black Bears began their decisive 15-4 run initiated by Simon’s 3-pointer and McVicar’s layup off a Simon feed that closed out the third quarter.
Simon began the fourth quarter with a three off a Carroll pass and, after two Solis free throws, Carroll scored inside off a Saar pass.
Carroll sank a free throw with 7:13 remaining to make it 56-43 and the cold-shooting River Hawks couldn’t get any closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“We knew we needed to get some stops,” Saar said. “And we got some open layups in transition which really helped us.”
UMaine also was able to feed off its crowd, which also hampered UML’s efforts.
“The crowd really helped out our energy,” Carroll said.
“We weren’t able to hear each other and that made it harder on us and easier for them to gather momentum. They capitalized on it,” said Idom, a UML sophomore who scored in double figures for the 20th straight game. “It was draining.”
Saar, who leads the nation in minutes played, didn’t play the last 12:18 of the first half after picking up her second foul. She knew her teammates would pick up the slack while she was out.
Gaddy Lefft came off the bench and made three steals in 7:50 and Kira Barra had two points and two rebounds in 5:46.
“We’re good no matter who is in there,” Saar said. “We play together and we play hard and it’s really hard to play against us because we have so many weapons.”
Idiom, UMass Lowell’s leading scorer, sat out the last 11:26 of the half after picking up her third foul.