GORHAM — There’s a price to be paid for a cold start against a hot team. This time it was a bitter defeat despite a hard-fought rally.
Kirsten Prue scored 16 points and Megan Phelps added 12 to help unbeaten Bowdoin hold off the University of Southern Maine for a 62-56 victory in a college women’s basketball game Tuesday night at Hill Gymnasium.
Shannon Brady added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Polar Bears (6-0), who are off to their best start since 2009-10, when they opened 10-0 and advanced to the NCAA Round of 16.
Erin McNamara and Rebecca Knight each scored 12 to lead the Huskies (4-3). Taylor Flood played a key role as well, scoring all of her 10 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer to cut Bowdoin’s lead to 51-50 with three minutes left. USM got no closer.
Oddly enough, the game turned on the opening five minutes, when Bowdoin opened a 14-4 lead, led by Prue’s two 3-pointers, and Brady’s bank shot and two free throws.
Meanwhile, USM shot 2 of 4 but also turned the ball over six times.
“I thought we played a very good 35 minutes but you have to play 40,” USM Coach Gary Fifield said.
“I’m not displeased at all. I told (my players) we played our best game of the year. I’m not sure they’ll hear that because their standards are high.”
The Huskies got better as the game wore on. They shot just 30 percent in the first half but nearly 45 percent in the second, when they found early success with a back screen to Knight, who scored eight of her 12 points.
Flood led the charge at the start of the second half, scoring seven points in USM’s 16-9 run that made it 34-34 with 12 minutes to play.
“USM is a great team; we usually have really good games with them,” said Phelps, a graduate of Mount Desert Island High in Bar Harbor.
“Tonight it came down to our ability to stay composed down the stretch.”
Phelps set the tone, hitting the front end of a 1-and-1 with 5:06 left to put the Polar Bears ahead for good, 51-46. She also went 8 of 12 from the line after the break, including 4 of 6 down the stretch.
Bowdoin’s fast start now includes wins over in-state rivals USM, the University of New England (64-59) and a NESCAC foe, Bates (76-40).
It’s hard to overstate the turnaround from a 3-3 start a year ago, which included decisive back-to-back losses to UNE (72-32) and USM (72-58).
“We’ve come a long way in a year,” said Bowdoin Coach Adrienne Shibles, whose 16-player roster includes five sophomores and three juniors.
“We’re happy to get the win against a great team in their gym, but we all know we have work to do. We have to clean up the fouls and work the ball inside more instead of forcing the 3-pointer.”
Prue, a graduate of Edward Little High in Auburn, said a year of growth among last season’s 14-11 squad plus a strong freshman class has been the difference.
“There are three of us averaging close to double-digits,” she said.
“This year we always have three people stepping up and playing well. It’s a weight off our shoulders. We can relax and have fun.”