After playing six games in 15 days, the University of Maine women’s basketball team has enjoyed an eight-day stretch between games. The Black Bears conclude their regular season against Vermont and Albany on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.

The Black Bears were picked to finish sixth among nine teams in America East in the coaches’ preseason poll but they are guaranteed a top-three finish and would win the regular-season title with victories in their last two games.

UMaine and defending six-time tournament champion Albany are tied atop the standings with 11-3 conference records and Binghamton is right behind at 10-4.

As UMaine is playing at 5-9 Vermont on Thursday night, Binghamton hosts Albany.

“The little break has been nice,” said UMaine interim head coach Amy Vachon. “It has given us some time to refresh and it has given me time to reflect on how great the team has done. No one expected us to be on top of the conference (at this stage).

“It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses but that’s not right. Our kids have done a great job executing,” added Vachon.

She said the recent stretch of games, which included trips to UMass Lowell, Binghamton and Stony Brook, has been tough but now they are ready for the final two games and the upcoming America East tournament March 3-4 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

The Black Bears are coming off a hard-fought 70-65 win over last-place UMass Lowell after losing at Stony Brook 76-68. The Stony Brook loss snapped an eight-game winning streak.

Vachon isn’t overly concerned about the last two performances and said they have “gotten back to basics” in practice.

She expects a tough battle with seventh-place Vermont, a possible a quarterfinal round opponent of the Black Bears.

Two useful contributors in UMaine’s success have been junior guard Parise Rossignol and senior forward Kirsten Johnson, the first two to come off the bench.

“She is playing with a lot of confidence right now. We have been on her to rebound and she has taken that to heart,” said Vachon.

The 5-foot-8 Rossignol is averaging 4.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game while averaging 21 minutes of playing time. She has turned the ball over just 15 times in 27 games for the 18-9 Black Bears.

The 6-2 Johnson has averaged 3.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. She averaged five minutes or less of playing time in her previous three seasons.

“She is a great example of someone who never quit. There have been a lot of games we wouldn’t have won without her,” said Vachon.

Vachon said she would love to be playing for the regular-season championship on Sunday.

“It would be a great spot to be in. The kids deserve it. But if it doesn’t happen, that will be OK, too. We’ll be ready for the tournament,” said Vachon.

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