The University of Maine women’s basketball team welcomed the return of reigning America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Anne Simon back to the lineup after an eight-game absence due to a high ankle sprain.
Simon looked like she had never missed a game.
The senior from Luxembourg scored 19 points to complement junior forward Caroline Bornemann’s 22 points and sophomore forward Adi Smith’s 19 as the Black Bears beat the University of New Hampshire 80-67 at the Memorial Gym on Wednesday night.
Members of the UMaine football team provided the Black Bears with loud and enthusiastic support and it was noted by UMaine head coach Amy Vachon.
“They were amazing. That atmosphere was just awesome. Kudos to them. One of the referees said it was the best atmosphere he has been in all year and he’s all over the country,” Vachon said.
Sarah Talon produced seven points off the bench.
The win assures the Black Bears of earning the third or fourth seed and hosting an America East quarterfinal on Wednesday, March 1.
UMaine is now 14-13 overall and 10-5 in conference play while UNH, fighting to earn one of the last two playoff berths, fell to 7-20 and 2-13.
Simon, who hadn’t played since reinjuring her ankle at Binghamton on Jan. 21, also had five steals, dished out four assists and grabbed three rebounds.
She logged 30 minutes and 22 seconds of playing time.
“It was nice to have Anne back,” said Vachon, who added that Simon played well.
“It’s hard to be out for so long and want to come back and be where you are at when you’re at your peak,” Vachon said. “She did a really good job playing within herself. The five steals and four assists were just as important if not more important than her 19 points.”
“I wasn’t going to come back before I felt 100 percent ready. The way it progressed, it went really well so I felt today was a good game to come back. I felt ready,” Simon said.
She was happy with the way things went.
“I felt I was more myself out there than I was in other games this season,” Simon said.
She said she focused on defense first “because I didn’t want to rush anything on offense. My offense comes from my defense. I wanted to be good on defense and offense comes with the flow.”
“She’s a great player,” said UNH coach Kelsey Hogan. “You know she’s going to be a scoring threat and help her team win.”
Smith had seven rebounds and four assists to go with her 19 points.
Bornemann had scored only 20 points over her last four games combined but she went 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-8 behind the 3-point arc en route to her 22 points. She also had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“It’s a matter of shooting with confidence,” Bornemann said. “My teammates find me and then it’s just a matter of shooting with confidence.”
Impressive freshman guard Avery O’Connor had 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for UNH. Adara Groman had 16 points and four assists and Breezie Williams scored 13 points and had three rebounds and two assists. Sanford’s Paige Cote contributed eight points and three rebounds.
UMaine outscored UNH 20-13 in the third period to build a 67-49 lead and had to withstand a fourth-quarter comeback by UNH that sliced the lead to 10.
UMaine led 47-36 after a free-wheeling first half in which the two teams combined to shoot 50 percent from the floor (32-for-64).
UMaine led by as many as 15 but the scrappy Wildcats stayed within striking distance as UMaine took a 47-36 lead into the intermission thanks to a pair of free throws by Simon with 1.3 seconds left in the half.
Bornemann had 14 points in the first half, Simon had 13 and Smith added 10.
Groman’s 11 points, O’Connor’s eight and Cote’s six paced UNH.
Hogan said it was one of her team’s “best offensive efforts” of the year.
“We’re struggling with the little things, defensively, especially the past couple of games,” Hogan said. “We have to take more pride on that end.”
UMaine concludes the regular season by hosting potential quarterfinal opponent Binghamton on Saturday at 1 p.m. UNH hosts UMass Lowell on Saturday, also at 1 p.m.