BIDDEFORD — Guard Lauren Hayden espouses the University of New England’s women’s basketball philosophy.

“Our biggest goal is defense,” said Hayden, the Commonwealth Coast Conference defensive player of the year. “We know that’s how you win games. Sometimes your shots aren’t going to fall.”

But what happens when you play defense and your shots are falling?

UNE raced to a huge lead and held off Roger Williams 61-50 in the conference championship game Saturday.

Kelly Coleman paced the Nor’easters with 18 points and nine rebounds.

UNE, ranked No. 20 in the USA Today Division III national poll, got its school-record 26th win against two losses and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. Pairings will be announced Monday.

This will be the UNE’s fifth trip to the NCAAs and fourth in the last five years. The conference title is UNE’s fourth overall and second straight.

Roger Williams (22-6) had handed the Nor’easters one of their defeats.

UNE jumped on the Hawks from the start. Roger Williams called two timeouts before it scored, falling behind 10-0.

“They set up their zone and that stifled us,” Hawks Coach Kelly Thompson said.

The Nor’easters allowed a season-high 80 points at Roger Williams in January.

“We didn’t play well defensively down there,” UNE Coach Anthony Ewing said. “We paid extra attention in the film room to what they do. You can’t let them run their stuff clean or they’ll tear you up.

“Our 1-3-1 zone was effective. … Our main goal was to find Kaitlyn Bovee and make it tough for her.”

Bovee, the league player of the year, had eight points, less than half her average.

UNE displayed plenty of offense, led by Coleman, who kept converting drives.

“Half my shots wouldn’t be there if (my teammates) weren’t hitting their shots from the outside,” said Coleman. “That gives me more touches.”

Alanna Vose of Cushing scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers.

“My role is to come off the bench to keep the spark going,” Vose said.

Lauren Hayden scored 10 points, with seven free throws in the last 1:30.

UNE led 37-19 at halftime. The Nor’easters shot 59 percent in the first half to the Hawks’ 22 percent.

“A combination of a little bit of jitters and a lot of bad defense,” Thompson said.

Roger Williams got aggressive with its defense and rallied late. The Hawks closed within 56-49 with 1:01 left.

“We fell asleep a little bit,” said Meghan Gribbin, a sophomore from Windham who finished with 10 points.

Freshman Alicia Brown of Greenland, N.H. added nine points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Sadie DiPierro of South Portland scored seven points.

Now the Nor’easters await the NCAA pairings. Ewing said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of hosting an opening-round game. UNE got its first NCAA tournament victory last year.

“Now we have to do better,” Coleman said, “and see how far we can go.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH