GORHAM – Nothing like coming into your opponent’s gym and taking them out of their game.
Smith College’s swarming defense bottled up the University of Southern Maine, and Paulina Solis scored 17 points to lead the Pioneers to an 80-58 victory Friday night at Hill Gymnasium, knocking the Huskies from the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament.
The Pioneers (23-4) advanced to a second-round matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday at USM against Ithaca College (26-2), which advanced with a 56-43 victory against Colby-Sawyer (23-6) in the first game.
Satuday night’s winner will advance to the sectional finals next Friday and Saturday.
Rosa Drummond added 16 points for the Pioneers, who reached the tournament for the first time. They earned an at-large bid out of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
Rebecca Knight, a McAuley High graduate, had 13 points and eight rebounds to lead the Little East Conference champion Huskies (27-2), who were in the NCAA tournament for the 26th time in 28 seasons.
Jordan Grant added 12 points and seven rebounds, and Erin McNamara and Nicole Garland, a Deering High graduate, each added 10 points.
Smith got the better of a frenetic start, leading from the opening tipoff when Devon Quattrocchi hit a jumper just six seconds in.
“They got a couple of breaks in those first two, three minutes,” said USM Coach Gary Fifield. “A couple of loose balls came to them, a few shots dropped in. They gained confidence and all of a sudden we’re playing from behind.”
And against a man-to-man defense that forced 22 turnovers.
“That’s as tough a defense as we’ve seen all year,” Fifield said. “When we made cuts, they bumped us and took us out of our cuts.”
“We’re a team of energy,” Solis said. The raucous environment “gave us the momentum from the get-go. If you give us hope, we’ll take it.”
The excitement of the crowd was no surprise to the Smith staff. Coach Lynn Hersey grew up in Dexter, and assistant Jill Henrikson is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Morse High of Bath.
“Our challenge was to be mentally prepared to play at USM,” Hersey said. “There’s a tremendous basketball tradition here. For us, it was about coming here and playing Smith basketball, doing the things that got us here.”
The Pioneers pieced together a 16-7 lead six minutes into the game. McNamara capped a three-point play with 13:38 remaining in the half to cut the lead to 16-13, but the Pioneers went on a 12-4 run over the next five minutes and went into the break with a 41-28 lead.
“They took us out of our element, played good defense on us in the frontcourt and didn’t allow us to do what we wanted to do, and typically do,” Garland said.
The Huskies put together a few runs in the second half, cutting it 54-46 on McNamara’s 3-pointer with 12:25 to play. But they didn’t get any closer than eight the rest of the way.
“They had a lot of good scoring options so we had to get out on everyone and they just played better offense tonight,” McNamara said. “We didn’t get the stops we needed.”