BANGOR — After all that had to fall into place for the Maine women’s basketball team to get one more home game, the Black Bears sure weren’t going to waste the opportunity.
Not a single one of them.
Maine got contributions from all 11 players Wednesday night to record its most convincing win of the season, 77-47 over Bucknell in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
The Bison entered the game with an RPI of 138, making it the best win of the season for a Maine team eager to celebrate some success.
“After the Hartford game, I felt like I was depressed,” sophomore guard Chantel Charles said of the overtime loss in the America East tournament. “When I found out that we had another chance, it was like one of the best feelings in the world, playing again with (senior Ashleigh Roberts) and the rest of our team.”
That togetherness was evident from the outset and overwhelmed a travel-weary Bucknell team. The Black Bears hit four early 3-pointers and that opened space for an endless series of backdoor layups. Maine finished with an incredible 28 assists on its 31 field goals.
Liz Wood led Maine (17-14) with 21 points, including five 3-pointers. Reserves Sophie Weckstrom and Lauren Bodine each had three 3-pointers. Center Mikaela Gustafsson had 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Roberts had 10 points. Charles scored only two but led the team with five assists and added five rebounds.
Sharing the ball became contagious.
“We don’t have great individual players. We don’t have a one-on-one, breakdown, clear-it-out, this-is-someone-who-can-score-against-a-double-team kind of player,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said. “Because everybody can shoot, because you have to be responsible for everybody on the floor, it opens some cutting opportunities for all the players. So moving the ball, that’s how we’re going to score.”
The school bid to play in the 16-team WBI and indicated it would pay the $10,000 to host a game, then waited, finding out Monday it was in.
There was only one date this week that worked for the Black Bears and that was Wednesday. A boat show is moving into the Cross Center on Friday.
Also, the higher-seeded team gets the first chance to play at home. Bucknell (16-14) was seeded second in the East but declined the opportunity. Maine, a seven seed, got lucky.
“I think it’s important for the program. This building is great. We have to market and use the building,” Maine Athletic Director Karlton Creech said.
Maine will travel to a second-round matchup at Fairfield (21-10) on Saturday or Sunday. Creech said if the Black Bears advance, he would be willing to host another game and pay the $12,000 fee for semifinal and championship matches.
But that’s in the future. What was apparent Wednesday was how excited the Black Bears were to play before an announced crowd of 1,004.
Creech said he bumped into Charles on campus Wednesday and the sophomore’s beaming smile told him all he needed to know about his investment.
“For these kids, it’s their first taste of kind of real success and postseason basketball. We have so many sophomores that are big contributors. They need this experience,” Creech said.
Maine, 4-24 a year ago, played in the postseason for the first time since 2005. This was the second tourney win in program history, although it paled in comparison to beating Stanford in the 1999 NCAA tournament.
Still, Barron impressed on his players this week the importance of giving their best effort.
“To the seniors, I said it’s a swan song. It’s a second chance. It’s a last hurrah. Take advantage of it and make the most of it,” Barron said. “To everybody else, it’s an audition. You’re telling us what to think of you for the entire offseason.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: