It was a different University of Maine women’s basketball team that dropped an 84-46 decision at North Carolina State on Dec. 15.
For starters, the Black Bears were without junior forward Fanny Wadling, their leading rebounder, who was dealing with post-concussion symptoms. That helped the Wolfpack outrebound the cold-shooting Black Bears 50-26.
Wadling hopes to make a difference Saturday afternoon when No. 14 seed UMaine (25-7) tries to knock off third-seeded and 10th-ranked North Carolina State (26-5) in a 1 p.m. NCAA tournament first-round game at Valvano Arena in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“It’s exciting,” Wadling said. “We’ve been doing as much as possible to prepare for it. This is what you work so hard for … to get to play in a game like this.”
Wadling, UMaine’s tallest starter at 6-foot-2, is averaging nine rebounds thanks to double-digit performances in six of her past eight games. But the Black Bears will be up against an N.C. State team that ranks 14th in the country in rebound margin at plus-8.8.
Wadling will continue to wear a splint on the pinkie finger on her right hand after she broke it during practice before the Feb. 24 game against Stony Brook. Fortunately, the native of Nacka, Sweden, is left-handed.
“I’m even more left-handed now,” Wadling said.
UMaine must deal with the likes of Wolfpack 6-5 freshman center Elissa Cunane and 6-1 senior forward DD Rogers. Cunane averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in two Atlantic Coast Conference tournament games and was named to the all-tourney team. Rogers averaged 14.5 points and 8.5 in those games.
“She will help us inside with her defense and rebounding,” UMaine sophomore Maeve Carroll said of Wadling. “And our main goal will be to box out, especially on the defensive boards.”
N.C. State had 35 defensive rebounds to UMaine’s 14 in the previous meeting.
UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said part of the reason those numbers were so lopsided is because of the shooting disparity. The Wolfpack shot 56.8 percent from the floor (33-for-58) compared with UMaine’s 27 percent (17-for-63).
She noted that Wadling is playing really well of late, which gives the team confidence.
“I watched our first game with them and, on one possession, they got four offensive rebounds in a row,” graduate student Parise Rossignol said. “Fanny will be important [to prevent that from happening again].”
One of the few bright spots in the first meeting was the play of UMaine’s reserves, who could play an important role Saturday.
Sophomore guard Kelly Fogarty scored a team-high 13 points in 20 minutes, and Carroll, who started in Wadling’s absence, posted six points and blocked two shots.
Fogarty, who is averaging 3.7 points in 11.2 minutes per contest, said her performance gives her confidence if she is called upon.
Carroll (2.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 19.2 mpg) said starting in place of Wadling during her 10-game absence was valuable.
“That helped me become more comfortable and confident on the court,” said Carroll, who is from Virginia and will have several family members in Raleigh.
“I know we didn’t play our best game, and I know we’ll shoot the ball better than we did the last time,” she said.
The other backup who averages double-digit minutes in her appearances is senior guard Maddy McVicar of Calais. She is contributing 3.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game.
“We’ve been preparing all season. There’s no reason for us [subs] not to feel confident,” McVicar said. “We have to be able to give the starters a rest.”
Vachon said that trio continues to improve and has been important in UMaine’s success.
“They’ve played in big games and have had some huge moments for us,” Vachon said. “These kids are good enough to play [more], it’s just that we have a real good starting five.”
“They know what their roles are, and they’re always ready,” junior Blanca Millan said.
Vachon knows her team is facing a tall task against the Wolfpack and must execute in the areas it did not in the December meeting.
“We’re going to have to hit our shots. We didn’t hit them in the first game and it hurt us,” Vachon said.
She also stressed the need to mix up their defenses and rebound well.
“We’re going to have to keep them off-balance. We can’t just play man-to-man or zone. They’re too good of a team,” Vachon said.