Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie gestures to her team during the first half in a regional semifinal against Connecitcut at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Frank Franklin II | AP

The University of Maine women’s basketball team had a nightmarish first quarter during its game against former UMaine coach Joanne Palombo McCallie and her Duke University Blue Devils on Thursday night at the Cross Insurance Center.

But the Black Bears showed incredible heart, grit and resilience to battle back from a 3-for-17 shooting performance in a six-point first quarter and an 11-point deficit with only 2:53 remaining in regulation to come within a whisker of forcing overtime in Duke’s 66-63 victory.

Duke improved to 1-1, while UMaine is now 2-1.

Sophomore guard Dor Saar’s desperation three-pointer just before the final buzzer hit the front rim and the rebound was grabbed appropriately by Duke redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki, who posted her second career double-double with 21 points and 10 assists, and had seven steals and six rebounds.

Her 10 assists and seven steals were career-highs for the 6-foot Garecki, who has the highest three-point shooting percentage of any returning Atlantic Coast Conference Player with more than 100 three-point attempts a year ago (42.3 percent). She went 4-for-9 from beyond the three-point arc Thursday night.

“Haley had a tremendous game. She did everything for us,” Palombo McCallie said.

“Her stat line is pretty impressive,” said UMaine coach Amy Vachon, who played for Palombo McCallie at UMaine. “Whenever we needed a stop, she was there to hit a three.”

But Vachon was extremely pleased with her team’s effort.

Despite being an average of four inches shorter per player, the tenacious Black Bears outrebounded youthful Duke 33-27 including a 12-5 edge in offensive rebounds.

“We watched their game against Northwestern [84-58 loss]. They’re big, but we felt we could get offensive rebounds against them, so we told our kids to crash the boards hard,” said Vachon, whose team out-hustled and outworked the Blue Devils in the paint.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Vachon said. “To be down by 11 with less than five minutes remaining and to make it a one-possession game …

“I love this team. I love their fight,” Vachon added. “We’re obviously disappointed we didn’t win. We really believed we could win, and that’s the one thing I love most about this team. That’s a special feeling. I’ll take that every day.”

In UMaine’s three previous meetings with Duke, UMaine lost all three by an average margin of 46 points. The Black Bears lost 69-39 in Durham, North Carolina, last season.

University of Maine junior guard Blanca Millan led all scorers with 25 points despite missing seven of her first eight shots. She wound up 11-for-22 from the floor, including three three-pointers on her last six attempts after missing her first four.

She also had five rebounds, three steals and two assists.

“We played good overall,” said Saar, who finished with 11 points and five assists. “We gave them a good fight. This will push us forward. We know we can play with anyone.”

“What a great basketball game and a great crowd,” Palombo McCallie said. “It was really important for us to have an opportunity to play in front of a great crowd. I knew Maine would do a super job and they did. Some of their players played very, very well. Millan had a fabulous game.

“I was really proud of our team. Some of our biggest plays came in some of the toughest times when the crowd was getting loud and the game had gotten close. We missed opportunities to put the game away but credit to Maine for fighting back,” said the 12th-year Duke coach from Brunswick.

Neah Odom finished with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots for Duke. Miela Goodchild had 14 points including a 4-for-8 showing from behind the three-point arc, and Jade Williams had 11 points and six rebounds.

Tanesha Sutton had 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals for UMaine, and Saar was the other double-digit scorer. Fanny Wadling added six points, a game-high nine rebounds, three assists and a steal despite absorbing a shot in the mouth by a backing-in Duke player in the first half. Parise Rossignol contributed five points, six rebounds and four assists.

The Blue Devils never trailed after scoring eight straight points to build a 10-2 lead.

They led by as much as 12 midway through the second quarter.

But the pesky Black Bears simply wouldn’t go away and continually fought back.

They brought the enthusiastic crowd of 2,868 to their feet with an 11-2 run over the game’s final 2:53 to pull within 65-63 with 28 seconds left on a Tanesha Sutton layup.

A Sutton layup had started the comeback with 2:37 left and, after a Duke miss, Millan hit a three-pointer off a Saar pass with 2:15 remaining to make it 63-57.

Gorecki made a nice feed to Odom for a layup with 1:52 left to restore the lead to eight but Wadling sandwiched a pair of inside baskets around a Duke miss to make it 65-61 with 1:03 left.

The Blue Devils turned the ball over, and Sutton drove the lane for another basket to cut it to 65-63 with 28 seconds left.

With the shot clock turned off, UMaine fouled four times in five seconds to reach the five-foul mark and send Gorecki to the foul line where she missed both free throws.

Millan grabbed the rebound, but Sutton missed a short jumper with 13 seconds left, and Wadling fouled Williams.

Williams, who had missed her four previous free throws, missed the first one but got the roll on the second one to make it 66-63 before Saar’s potential game-tying three just fell short.

“Maine is a good, solid team,” Gorecki said. “At the end, we made big plays [when we had to].”

She also said UMaine’s defense was good “because they were lower than us and they got their hands in there. They had some good skills.”

Gorecki credited her teammates for finding her when she was open.

“They found me in the right position at the right time. They set good screens, and I was super open,” Gorecki said.

Millan said the Black Bears didn’t panic when their shots didn’t fall in the first quarter.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team, and we knew we had to keep shooting because they would start going in,” Millan said.

UMaine shot 24-for-44 from the floor after the first quarter.

The family of the late UMaine standout Stacey Porrini Clingan, a three-time all-conference player who died from cancer on March 27, came on the court before the game, and tributes to Porrini Clingan from Vachon and Palombo McCallie were shown on the scoreboard. Palombo McCallie said Porrini Clingan was the first post player she ever recruited. Husband Bill and children Donovan and Olivia were among the family members present, and the 6-foot-8 Donovan wore his mother’s No. 32 jersey.

At halftime, 41 former Black Bear players were introduced at center court.

“Having Stacey’s family there was a pretty special scene and having the alums there was also special,” said Vachon. “There were a lot of really cool things about tonight and I’m glad we were able to give them a real good game.”

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