During its four-game road losing streak, the University of Maine women’s basketball team has had trouble finishing games.
The Black Bears had no such issues Monday night against the University of Hartford.
UMaine used a 21-10 third-quarter run to break open a one-point game and withstood a few pushes by the Hawks to pick up a pivotal 66-60 America East victory at West Hartford, Connecticut.
The Black Bears improved to 13-13 overall and 6-5 in conference play, and the Hawks dropped to 14-9 and 5-5, respectively.
Hartford had yet to lose a conference game at Chase Family Arena, and UMaine had not won a conference game on the road since Jan. 11
More importantly, the Black Bears swept the season series with Hartford and leapfrogged the Hawks into fifth place in the conference standings with five games remaining.
The Hawks refused to go away, opening the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run, to claw back within four less than 90 seconds into the final period.
But a perimeter basket from Julie Brousseau and a Laia Sole layup gave the Black Bears some breathing room.
Once again, Hartford did not go away, as the Hawks scored the game’s next seven points to climb back within two, but UMaine held Hartford to just three points over the final three and a half minutes.
“We talked a lot the last couple days about sense of urgency,” UMaine associate head coach Amy Vachon told Learfield broadcaster Don Shields. “We made mistakes for sure, but they played hard.”
UMaine’s freshmen provided the sparks offensively, with Sole scoring 19 points, Brousseau scoring 17 and Blanca Millan scoring 14.
Millan’s defensive efforts also held Hartford senior guard Deanna Mayza to four points and five turnovers on 1-for-8 shooting. The interior defensive play of Fanny Wadling also made things tough on the Hawks.
“I thought our freshmen played really well today,” Vachon said. “[Fanning] does a lot for us that doesn’t go on the stat sheet.”
UMaine was able to put the game away in spite of shooting 4-for-12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t make it easy, did we?” Vachon said.
Brousseau also had one of her best shooting outputs of the season, hitting 4 out of 9 shots from beyond the arc while UMaine was 8-for-12 from the perimeter.
“That might be one of Julie’s best games she’s played in a long time,” Vachon said. “I’m really proud of this team. I know there’s been an umbrella over our heads about not winning on the road. I can’t say enough about those kids, just finding a way to win.”
It was yet another tightly contested first half for the Black Bears, which saw the teams battle through 12 lead changes and UMaine take a 33-32 lead into the locker room.
The biggest lead for either team over the first 20 minutes was four.
UMaine plays four of its last five games in the confines of the Cross Insurance Center, where it is undefeated in conference play, starting with Thursday night’s contest against UMass Lowell.
Follow Ryan McLaughlin on Twitter at @rmclaughlin23.