BANGOR — One year after a bus crash ended their season too soon, the Maine women don’t want to stop playing ball. Nearly two weeks after losing an emotional one-point game to Hartford in overtime in the America East quarterfinals, Ashleigh Roberts and Liz Wood and their teammates took deep breaths.
And played a game with a mix of intensity and abandon if that’s somehow possible.
Maine beat Bucknell 77-47 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, a postseason tournament you probably never heard about until this week. A tournament for teams who simply weren’t good enough to play in the female edition of March Madness.
You could call it a consolation prize. The Maine women won’t and shouldn’t. Their season might have ended in Albany, N.Y., with the 63-62 overtime loss to Hartford. Things were said that night. Coach Richard Barron eased the pain by contrasting their 16-win ride with last year’s 4-win season.
There was a hint of finality to his words. No one knew for sure if they’d get another chance to play together again.
Back on campus, Barron talked with his players. They had worked so hard to make themselves tougher, emotionally and physically. Barron wanted to know what was their motivation.
They were tired of stinking, or words to that effect, said Barron on Wednesday night, after his players walked off the court at the Cross Insurance Center. Walked? They floated.
“We were clicking,” said Wood, simply. She and Roberts were Maine’s catalysts all season. But Wood had struggled against Hartford. The best way to erase that memory was to play one more game.
Wood scored 21 against Bucknell to lead all scorers. She swatted away one Bucknell shot in the second half with an emphasis that couldn’t be misunderstood.
“For the seniors (Roberts, Rachele Burns), this was their swan song,” said Barron. He told the others that Wednesday night would be one more audition for next year.
Yes, Maine played an opponent that traveled between 9 to 10 hours by bus from eastern Pennsylvania. Bucknell broke up Tuesday’s trip by stopping in Worcester, Mass., at Holy Cross, a fellow Patriot League member. Bucknell was ushered onto a basketball court, practiced, and got back on the bus. Yes, Bucknell didn’t have Maine’s bench strength. Or motivation.
The score was close for the first 10 minutes. Barron substituted freely. Show me what you’ve got, he was telling them without opening his mouth.
Your turn. Show me. So they did. It rained 3-point shots and when Bucknell tried to choke that off, Maine went inside.
On the Maine bench, players couldn’t stay seated. Barron has rotated his players well throughout the season but now it seemed everyone wanted in at the same time.
The Maine women are still a secret to their classmates, 10 miles away on campus, so there was little student energy in the announced crowd of 1,004. It didn’t matter. The players provided their own.
Cherrish Wallace, the redshirt senior and transfer from Baylor, was absent at point guard. She returned to California for a family emergency last week.
She brought some swagger to Maine’s game when she played during second semester. Barron hoped it would be contagious. Wednesday he saw that it was.
“It’s good to say ‘we don’t want to be bad anymore’ but there’s a ceiling to that. We’ve got to take it to the next step and prove we’re a good team.”
A good team won Wednesday night.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: