BANGOR, Maine — After losing the last two America East Tournament championship games at Albany, the University of Maine’s women’s basketball team earned the right to host Friday’s championship game against Hartford by winning the regular-season title.
The Black Bears capitalized on their home-court advantage.
Fueled by a vociferous and energetic crowd of 3,373 as the Cross Insurance Center, the Black Bears rattled off a 14-3 run to close out the third quarter and build a 13-point lead on the way to a 74-65 victory for their first title since 2004.
UMaine (23-9) has earned the conference’s automatic berth for the NCAA tournament and finds out its regional matchup during the selection show on Monday night.
The Black Bears exhibited exceptional balance by placing five players in double digits led by sophomore guard Blanca Millan, who poured in 18 of her game-high 22 points in the second half.
Julie Brosseau posted 16 points, four rebounds and three assists, Parise Rossignol came off the bench to score 12 points, Tanesha Sutton had 11 points, including nine in the second half, to go with four rebounds and four assists, and Fanny Wadling contributed 10 points, a game-high eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Freshman guard Dor Saar added five rebounds, four steals, including two important ones in the fourth quarter, and three assists.
Janelle Harrison’s 13 points paced the Hawks (19-13). Sierra DaCosta had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, Lindsey Abed had nine points and a game-high eight assists and Jade Young (six rebounds) and Mary Pattison had eight points apiece.
Darby Lee, who scored a career-high 24 points in a 59-56 regular-season loss to UMaine, got into early foul trouble and was held to six points by Wadling.
“Having five kids in double figures is awesome. It speaks volumes about this team,” said UMaine head coach Amy Vachon.
Millan was chosen the Most Valuable Player and was joined on the all-tourney team by Rossignol, Hartford’s Lee and Harrison, and New Hampshire’s Carlie Pogue.
“They put together 40 minutes of good basketball at both ends of the floor,” said Hartford coach Kim McNeill.
“We never got into a flow, offensively, and we weren’t who we normally are on defense. We only forced 15 turnovers and they forced us into 17 turnovers,” said McNeill, whose Hawks forced 22.4 turnovers per game to rank eighth in the country.
McNeill called off her full-court press and went into a half-court set because the press was ineffective.
The Hawks forced 48 turnovers in their quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Binghamton and Albany, leading to 48 points.
Hartford scored only 11 points off turnovers on Friday while UMaine registered 19 points off Hawk turnovers.
“We turned it over a little bit but it was very rare that they scored immediately after it,” said Vachon, who mentioned another key was their ability to keep Hartford off the offensive boards.
Hartford had 40 offensive rebounds in their first two tournament games but the Black Bears held them to five on Friday.
“They had four offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points in the first half but they had just one offensive rebound and one second-chance point in the second half. That’s the game,” Vachon said.
“We really focused on getting stops in the second half and our defense led to our offense,” said Rossignol.
Millan said after scoring only four points in the first half, her teammates encouraged her to keep shooting in the second half.
“They told me to start over,” said Millan.
UMaine led 46-44 with 4:49 left in the third quarter when Brosseau fed Millan for an eight-foot jumper to trigger the 14-3 run.
Millan, who had scored the Black Bears’ first seven points of the second half, then made a steal and it led to a 3-pointer from the left corner by Saar off a kick-out pass by Wadling.
Wadling picked up another assist on an eight-footer by Millan to make it 53-44 and then Sutton slipped a back-door pass to the wide-open Wadling for a layup.
Pattison nailed a 3-pointer to snap Hartford’s scoreless 3:47 scoreless drought but Rossignol answered with a 3 and Millan closed out the quarter with two free throws.
“Their crowd fed into that run as well. And we kind of fell apart defensively,” said Hartford junior guard Abed.
The Black Bears jumped out to a 15-8 lead as Brosseau nailed three 3-pointers and two free throws.
But Kelly Douglass came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer with her first touch of the game and that triggered an 11-1 run that supplied the Hawks with a 19-16 lead.
Douglass finished off the flurry with another three and she also made a steal and fed Harrison for a layup.
Millan scored her first two points of the game as she sank a pair of free throws to close out the first period and pull UMaine within one.
Rossignol’s traditional three-point play midway through the second period gave UMaine a 26-24 lead before the Hawks rattled off a 7-3 flurry to take a 31-29 lead.
Young hit a three to start the rally.
Rossignol hit a 3-pointer as the teams went back and forth for the rest of the half to wind up tied 36-36.
Young capped the scoring by putting in her own rebound.
Brosseau had all 16 of her points in the first half to lead UMaine. Rossignol had nine.