A slow start might have prevented the UMaine women’s basketball team from going deeper in last year’s America East playoffs.

The University of Maine women’s basketball team was given a painful reminder this week.

Coach Richard Barron showed his players video from last year’s loss to Hartford in the America East Conference quarterfinals.

“We only watched the first two minutes in order to (anger us). As soon as that game popped up, all of us wanted to leave the locker room,” senior guard Courtney Anderson said of being forced to relive Hartford’s 8-0 run to open the game.

“We got punched a few times (in that game) before we decided to wake up. It’s not something you can afford to do, especially in a tournament.”

The Black Bears went on to lose in overtime, 63-62. But the message from coach to players was clear: It was essentially lost in the opening seconds.

Maine (22-7) returns to the conference tournament this year with the top seed earned during a regular season that included 14 consecutive victories. But the lesson of what occurred last year, and even on Sunday when the Black Bears were flat and fell 61-47 to New Hampshire, has been implanted in the players’ minds during a spring-break week of grueling practices.

“We’re using our anger about the situation in a positive way,” Anderson said. “It’s hard when you’re in the course of a win streak to realize how things could be slowly going down, and it was encapsulated in that game (against UNH). You tend to take things for granted when they aren’t put right in your face.”

Maine opens tournament play against Binghamton at noon Saturday. Binghamton (4-22) is the eighth seed but the host school. The Black Bears used advantages in size and experience to wallop Binghamton twice during the regular season.

That’s immaterial now, said junior center Mikaela Gustafsson.

“We don’t want to be in that situation again,” she said of last year’s loss to Hartford. “We want to advance. We really want to make sure we focus on the first four minutes of the game, and what message do you send to the other team?”

Maine hasn’t won an America East quarterfinal since Barron arrived four years ago. There’s a big prize lurking if the Black Bears get past Binghamton and then either Hartford or New Hampshire in Sunday’s 2 p.m. semifinal: the chance to host the nationally televised championship game at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The winner of that game will play in the NCAA tournament.

“Obviously, that’s in the back of our minds. I’m not going to lie,” Gustafsson said. “We’re not thinking two games ahead. But we really know what’s at stake.”

Gustafsson, a 6-foot-2 reserve, missed two of Maine’s impassioned practice sessions this week after rolling her ankle Monday. But she expects to be ready for Saturday and could give the Black Bears a big lift. She scored 23 points in Maine’s two double-digit victories over the Bearcats and is averaging 9.3 points on 53 percent shooting in her last four games while backing up Anna Heise.

“When I get a good basket, I tend to go on runs,” Gustafsson said. “I need to be more consistent and not just have four great minutes and then hide the rest of the game. I’m trying to aim higher. I want to help my teammates out and give something to the team.”

Gustafsson was more of a perimeter player in her native Sweden, on a club team that included five taller teammates. Adjusting to the ruggedness of the interior play in U.S. college basketball hasn’t been easy. Mixing it up with Heise, a 6-3 German, in practice has helped.

“We hate each other during practice. We really do,” Gustafsson said. “But we know, even though we’re giving each other dirty looks, that I’m making her better, she’s making me better. So no hard feelings.”

There’s no time for feelings now anyway. It’s March, and Anderson said the Black Bears need to stay hungry despite being favored to win.

“They may be hunting us but we’re attacking the rest of the league,” she said.

AWARDS: Barron was chosen as Coach of the Year and junior forward Liz Wood was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year at the America East awards banquet Friday night.

Wood and sophomore guard Sigi Koizar were selected to the all-conference first team.