March 17, 2010

NCAA time, and second chance for USM women

KEVIN THOMAS

— By

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Staff photo by John Patriquin. Tues. Nov. 28, 2006. USM's #31 Stacey Kent shoots the ball past Bowdoin's #24 Marisa Berne during action at Bowdoin tonight.

Staff Writer

GORHAM — Stacey Kent figured the ball would end up in her hands.

''I looked at Coach. I knew there was like 17 seconds left,'' Kent remembered. ''We ran a play that sets me up for a 3-pointer. I was like, 'run it. I'm going to hit it.' It felt good, looked good ...''

Pacing along the bench, her coach, Gary Fifield, saw the ball head in. ''It was down,'' he said.

But no.

Kent's 3-point try, which would have tied the University of Southern Maine with Eastern Connecticut with 17 seconds left in overtime Saturday, rattled around the rim and out.

Eastern Connecticut won 65-60 and someone besides USM celebrated a Little East Conference championship.

''It didn't hit until Sunday morning,'' Kent said. ''I woke up and realized we lost in the LEC championship game and we haven't done that in 11 years.''

Actually 12 years, but Kent isn't a history major. Her specialty is psychology. And she soon began making mental adjustments.

''No one likes losing, especially our team. We're not used to losing,'' she said. ''But we are 25-3. We got into the (NCAA) tournament. We got a good bracket. I think we're going to do well.

''It's not going to make us put our heads down by any means.''

The bounce back will begin at 5:30 p.m. today when the 17th-ranked Huskies play unranked Brandeis (18-7) in the first round of the 63-team NCAA tournament. The site of the game is Kean University in Union, N.J. The second game features Kean (25-5) against Utica (17-10). The winners play Saturday.

USM is one of the three Maine teams playing today. Both Bowdoin teams reached the NCAAs.

The women (18-8) play at Bridgewater (Mass.) State at 8 p.m., and the men (21-6) play Curry at 6 p.m. at Brandeis in Waltham, Mass.

This is the Huskies' 22nd trip to the NCAAs in the past 23 years. They reached the final in 2006, when Kent was a little-used freshman.

''It makes you want to go back there,'' said Kent, 20, a junior from Northwood, N.H.

But it will be a tough climb. Despite their record, the Huskies aren't the national power of the previous three years when they had the star power of Megan Myles and Ashley Marble.

This year's team is more balanced, but Kent, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward, is the go-to player. She leads the Huskies in scoring (14.3 average), rebounds (5.9 average), 3-pointers (42) and steals (47).

''I like her athleticism and her nose for the ball,'' said Fifield, who spotted the lightly recruited Kent at Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood, N.H. ''I liked her upside.''

Kent isn't going to outmuscle anyone, but she's quick and can jump with a long reach. Combine that with her instincts and Fifield found a winner.

Kent thinks she found one, too.

''Clearly there was a tradition of excellence,'' she said. ''I came to see a few games. I liked how Coach Fifield coached and how the team played. I didn't look at many (other) colleges.''

And now Kent hopes to help her team pursue some excellence in the NCAAs despite a rare conference defeat.

''It's definitely going to make us hungrier,'' she said.

USM-BRANDEIS: The Judges aren't ranked and their record isn't impressive, but they play in the tough University Athletics Association.

USM can struggle with tall teams, and Brandeis is led by 5-10 guard Jaime Capra (14.7-point average), 6-1 Lauren Orlando and 6-foot Cassidy Dadaos.

USM counters with depth led by Kent and whichever post player is hot -- Angela Santa Fe, Shannon Kynoch, Becky Dixon or Josalee Danieli.

BOWDOIN-BRIDGEWATER STATE: Neither team is ranked, although Bridgewater State did receive votes for the d3hoops.com poll, based on its third win over a strong Salem State team.

While Bowdoin is used to these NCAA games, Bridgewater State hasn't been in the tournament in 22 years. The Bears are led by senior sisters Colleen Feeney (20.5 points/12.9 rebounds a game) and 5-8 Caitlin Feeney (14.6 points a game). Other seniors contribute, as do two freshmen -- 6-foot Carolyn Swanson and 5-3 point guard Corey Cuddihy.

With Bowdoin forward Jill Anelauskas still recovering from an injury -- she played 18 minutes Saturday in the loss to Amherst -- Bowdoin needs to generate offense, led by guard Alexa Kaubris.

BOWDOIN-CURRY: This is the Colonels' first appearance in the NCAA men's tournament. Tim Jones has hit 76 3-pointers, and Mark Mastrullo has hit 60. Underneath is 6-10 Johnathan Bowers (averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds).

Bowdoin counters with hot guard Andrew Hippert (54 points in the NESCAC tournament), and forwards Jordan Fliegel and Kyle Jackson.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

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