Saturday’s victory over the University at Albany was a breakthrough accomplishment for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
The Black Bears’ resurgence during the last two seasons has been unmistakable but, until now, their legitimacy as an America East championship contender has never been so apparent.
The Great Danes, the three-time defending conference champions, were 49-1 in their previous 50 America East contests dating back to the 2011-2012 season.
UMaine not only beat UAlbany 52-44, securing its eighth straight win, but did so on the road. The performance ended the Great Danes’ eight-game winning streak.
Coach Richard Barron believes the Black Bears will be able to keep it in perspective.
“It’s all relative, but it’s a big one and it’s over,” he said on Monday. “That was [Sunday]. No one’s going to remember that game if we don’t back it up by playing well on Sunday [against Hartford].”
The Black Bears’ reward is two days off during their bye week. UMaine does not play again until it entertains Hartford on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“This is our rest up, dig out of the snow, catch up on your work kind of week,” Barron said.
UMaine’s statement win at SEFCU Arena provides yet another example of the team’s talent and cohesiveness. Those dynamics were unmistakable during last Thursday’s 87-56 rout of New Hampshire in Bangor.
After that game, UMaine junior Liz Wood addressed the Black Bears’ level of confidence, especially at the offensive end, heading to Albany.
“If we continue to perform like that, I don’t think there’s a team in the league that can stop us,” Wood said. “We just need to know that we’re capable of it and look for our shots, run our offense well and look for shots late in the shot clock and just execute.”
Ultimately, it was UMaine’s defense that paved the way for the win at Albany. The Black Bears relied exclusively on their versatile 2-3 matchup zone, which bogged down the Great Danes.
UAlbany shot only 25 percent from the field (14-for-56), including 0-for-10 from the 3-point arc, while posting its lowest point total of the season. The Bears held the talented Shereesha Richards to 15 points and made sure the Great Danes’ perimeter players did not establish any rhythm.
“Our defense was really good,” said Barron, whose players were successful defending against the midrange jump shot, one that had hurt the Bears in the first meeting with UAlbany.
“We put some stuff in against New Hampshire that prepared us for Albany without being too contrived,” he added.
Sophomore Sigi Koizar’s game-high 17 points led UMaine, while junior Chantel Charles achieved a career best with 16 points and junior Anna Heise contributed 10 points.
Koizar was named the America East Player of the Week after she averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in two wins.
Wood, who was held to two points at Albany, needs only three more to become the eighth Black Bear to reach 1,000 career points in three seasons.
The Black Bears look forward to having the opportunity to play UAlbany in the postseason.
“It would be nice if we win two out of three this year, but there’s going to be one game that means more than any other,” Barron said last week, “and that’s going to be the last time we play them. That’s when we want to play our best basketball.”
In the meantime, UMaine will maintain the same approach that has helped it gain a share of first place in the America East standings.
“I’m sure our kids are not going to be satisfied. They’re certainly not going to be cocky after this win,” Barron said. “They’re going to be motivated to keep working hard.”