BIDDEFORD — Early in the season, the University of New England women’s basketball team was struggling.

Its record was 6-5, and with a large roster turnover and freshmen playing important minutes, a streak of five straight NCAA Division III tournament appearances looked to be in jeopardy.

But the program that compiled a 123-24 record in the previous five years turned itself around, winning 17 straight games, including a 76-62 victory against Western New England in the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game Saturdy.

And with that win came another NCAA berth. The Nor’easters will find out all of the first-round pairings at 2:30 p.m. Monday.

“(The season) has been unreal,” said Coach Anthony Ewing, in his 10th season with the Nor’easters. “At one point we were 6-5 and off three straight losses, two (of them) at home. That wasn’t us.

“These kids, to their credit, doubled the work, got after it and stuck with the process the whole way.”

Among the new faces is freshman Sadie Nelson of Windham, who said the tradition was one of the reasons she and other classmates decided to attend UNE. And they didn’t want to be part of the team that didn’t reach the NCAAs.

“It’s the reason why a lot of us came here. We wanted to continue this legacy,” said Nelson, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “I think it’s great that we got here and we all wanted to win.”

One of the three straight early-season losses for UNE (23-5)came at home to Western New England, 78-55. It wasn’t going to happen again.

Alicia Brown, who helped get the Nor’easters to the title game with a monster 33-point, 10-rebound effort in the semifinals, led UNE with 21 points, six rebounds and one blocked shot. Sam McDonald (18 points, five rebounds) and freshman Joceyln Chaput (11 points, four rebounds) also contributed.

Western New England Coach Nicole Chaszar gave credit to Brown.

“It’s really hard to go into a game where you have a kid who can finish around the rim so well,” she said. “She’s good with her back to the basket, good on the seal for a lob (and) she’s good on top.

“Then they have kids, when you do help (on Brown) who can shoot the ball from outside.”

Western New England (19-9) led 11-8 but UNE answered with a 12-0 run in the final 2:38 of the first quarter to grab the lead for good. Nelson canned a 3-pointer with three seconds left to cap it.

The Golden Bears, who trailed by 14 points late in the first half, pulled within 51-48 with 2:59 left in the third quarter.

But again, UNE rattled off a run, scoring the final five points of the quarter to make it 56-48. Western New England never got closer the rest of the way.

In the run, Nelson hit three free throws and dished to McDonald for a 5-foot, pull-up jumper on the fast break.

“We knew we couldn’t let up,” Nelson said. “We knew how good they are. We came out and did our thing.”

“It’s something we’ve been talking about all year, finishing up a quarter (strong),” Ewing said.

“I thought we finished each quarter strong.”