ORONO, Maine — Anne Simon launched a three. Swish. Another one. Swish. Five in a row.
The University of Maine’s women’s basketball team had its last full practice on Thursday morning before Friday’s 5 p.m. America East championship game against Albany.
Simon, a junior guard from Luxembourg, was working on her long-range shooting after going 2-for-13 beyond the 3-point arc in UMaine’s quarterfinal win over Hartford and semifinal victory over the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Even though Simon hasn’t shot well, including an overall 11-for-30 showing from the floor, she has still averaged 14 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, three assists and two steals. The league’s player of the year and defensive player of the year has played her typical brand of defense.
“I know I haven’t shot well the last two games but I’ve just got to keep shooting the ball and shoot with confidence,” Simon said.
UMaine, which will be appearing in its seventh consecutive league championship game, has won 14 straight games and enters the contest with a 20-10 record.
UMaine has the nation’s fourth-longest active winning streak, while Albany is 22-9. UMaine has won the last 11 meetings with Albany, including eight home games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and at The Pit. The Black Bears have won 12 of their last 13 league playoff games, but Albany beat UMaine in the league championship games in 2016 and 2017.
Simon knows even if she is having an off night shooting, she can still be an important contributor by playing good defense and attacking the basket and passing to an open shooter.
Graduate student guard Maeve Carroll is the only Black Bear who has won a tournament championship, with two in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Carroll, Simon and sophomore guard Alba Orois are the only ones who played in the 64-60 loss to Stony Brook in last year’s title game at The Pit.
“Some people never get to play in a championship game. You can’t take it for granted, let alone it being a home game in The Pit,” Carroll said. “That’s really to our advantage. Our fans are awesome. The atmosphere is going to be great in there.”
UMaine won both regular season games against Albany, 64-55 at the Memorial Gym on Feb. 9 and 49-45 in New York state. But both could have gone either way.
The Great Danes will come into the game with a 2.6-inch height advantage per player in the respective starting lineups. Orois said her team will have to box out well and contend with big guards, including 6-foot sophomore Kayla Cooper.
“The two games we played against them were tough games,” Orois said. “But those are fun games to play in.”
UMaine’s three-quarter court press will be an important factor because the Black Bears scored 59 points off turnovers in their two previous playoff games and Albany turns the ball over 16.5 times per game.
“They’re a great team. We definitely want to put pressure on them,” said UMaine head coach Amy Vachon. “They’re bigger than us in every position so we can’t sit and play 30-second half-court defense against them. We need to speed the game up as much as we can.”
In the two regular season games, UMaine only outscored Albany 37-33 in points off turnovers despite forcing 34 turnovers. UMaine turned the ball over 27 times.
Albany comes into the game ranked second in the country among 348 Division I schools in scoring defense, allowing only 48.6 points per game. UMaine is 37th at 56.4, but it has held opponents to 47.6 ppg during its 14-game winning streak.
“It’ll come down to the two defenses,” Carroll said.
It could also come down to a player coming off the bench like UMaine sophomore guard Olivia Rockwood, whose three 3-pointers sewed up the NJIT victory.
“I’m comfortable out there,” said Rockwood, who played just 60 minutes last season. “I know what I need to do: play solid defense and hit shots when I’m open.”
Starting sophomore forward Caroline Bornemann, who played a total of 36 minutes last season, is UMaine’s leading playoff scorer at 16.5 points per game. Carroll is averaging 15 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Orois is averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists.
Cooper has been the top playoff scorer for Colleen Mullen’s Great Danes in wins over New Hampshire and Vermont, averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Ellen Hahne is at 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds and Helene Haegerstrand has been good for 10.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.