BANGOR — The University of Maine’s women’s basketball team was picked to finish sixth in America East in the preseason America East coaches poll and the University of New Hampshire was the unanimous preseason favorite to defend its regular-season championship.

On Thursday night, The Black Bears scored the game’s first nine points and never looked back, thumping the Wildcats 77-46 at the Cross Insurance Center to take over sole possession of first place in the conference standings.

UMaine (17-8 overall, 10-2 AE) was tied with Albany for first place entering Thursday’s play but Vermont upset the Great Danes. It was the Black Bears’ eighth straight win

UNH fell to 15-10 (6-6 AE).

Sophomore guard Julie Brosseau scored a game-high 19 points to lead four players in double figures for UMaine. She also contributed five assists and three rebounds.

Sophomore guard Blanca Millan added 16 points, two assists, two steals, sophomore forward Fanny Wadling contributed 15 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and two assists, and junior guard Tanesha Sutton added 12 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and four assists.

Olivia Healy posted 15 points, seven rebounds and two assists for New Hampshire and 2017 America East Player of the Year Carlie Pogue was held to 10 points and five rebounds.

UMaine employed a 2-3 zone and collapsed inside on UNH’s standout 6-2 center Pogue, forcing the Wildcats to shoot outside. They they struggled mightily, shooting just 31.6 percent from the floor and 21.7 percent from the 3-point arc.

“I thought it was really a complete game, offensively and defensively,” said UMaine interim head coach Amy Vachon. “We put in a game plan and the girls executed it to a ‘T,’ defensively, especially in the first half. Pogue is a fantastic player and we took the approach that we were going to force some other players to beat us and, fortunately, it worked out for us tonight.”

“It was a great game plan,” said UNH coach Maureen Magarity. “We have really struggled shooting all year. And, on the flip side, they shot the lights out.

“They have a lot of talent and we didn’t do a good job getting back on their transition,” said Magarity.

UMaine shot 55.2 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent from the 3-point arc. The Black Bears also outrebounded the taller Wildcats 40-29.

“We were quicker and we were more eager. We wanted to get every rebound,” said Sutton.

“(Sutton) is a tough matchup for us,” said Magarity, who was without 3-point specialist Aliza Simpson, who was sick.

“We really got each other into the game,” said Sutton. “We moved the ball well. We had 25 assists and only seven turnovers and that’s good. It was a great team win for us.”

“We shared the ball a lot and we executed well,” said Brosseau.

UMaine built the lead to as many as 19 points in the first half before taking a 37-21 lead into the intermission.

Sutton had 10 points and six rebounds in the first half, Millan registered nine points, two assists and two rebounds and Brosseau contributed eight points and three assists. Wadling had four blocked shots, four rebounds and four points.

Healy had 11 points over the first 20 minutes including her team’s first eight points. She also grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot. Fogarty had four points and three rebounds and nobody else had more than two points.

Pogue was held scoreless in the first half.

UMaine outrebounded UNH 21-14 and shot 55.2 percent from the floor (16-for-29) in the half compared to UNH’s 27.6 percent (8-for-29).

UMaine outscored UNH in the paint 20-6.

Brosseau’s jumper just beyond the foul line, Sutton’s 3-pointer from the top of the key, Dor Saar’s steal and layup and Wadling’s layup off a Brosseau pass staked UMaine to a 9-0 lead before Healy hit a jumper to put the Wildcats on the board with 6:33 left in the period.

UMaine used a 13-4 spurt in the second period to expand its lead to 31-12.