GORHAM – With a band of quick, swarming guards, the University of Southern Maine women’s basketball team pounced on loose balls, deflected passes and tried to shake up the University of New England.

Lesser teams have folded under the Huskies’ pressure.

But UNE has mighty expectations this year, and the Nor’easters stood their ground, topping USM 89-79 Monday night at Hill Gymnasium in the season opener for both teams.

“They’re battle-tested,” UNE Coach Anthony Ewing said of his players. “These are the kind of games they want to play in, against the top regional opponents.”

Kelley Paradis, a 5-foot-10 junior from Newport, scored 30 points, and five teammates added nine or more.

Kaylie DeMillo (17 points) and Renee Nicholas (16) paced USM.

When UNE beat USM in Biddeford last year, it was a surprise. But now the Nor’easters have all but one player back from a 23-6 team that reached the NCAA tournament.

“We planned to come in here and do our best,” Paradis said, “and that’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, perennial Division III power USM is rebuilding with a four-guard offense. Last year’s leading scorer, forward Curran Leighton, left when Division II St. Anselm offered her a scholarship.

“We have no other options than to play with the cards we were dealt and see what happens,” USM Coach Gary Fifield said.

At times, USM had three freshmen and a sophomore on the floor.

Still, the Huskies made it a game. After a first half that featured eight lead changes, USM led for nearly 10 minutes of the second half, by as many as six points. USM caused 20 UNE turnovers, and the Huskies’ quick guards were driving to the basket.

“We knew they were going to press and be all over us,” Paradis said. “But we’ve learned to keep our composure and stay in control.

“We always come back. Good shots always come.”

And the Nor’easters made those shots, hitting 56 percent, including 10 of 18 3-pointers. Guard Carrie Bunnell (17 points) made three 3-pointers, and Liz LeBlanc (13 points) hit four 3s.

Margo Russell, who scored all her points on free throws (10 of 12), led UNE with eight rebounds. The Nor’easters had a 37-28 rebounding advantage.

UNE trailed 60-54 with 11:33 to play. Paradis drove in for a score, followed by 3s from Bunnell and Kari Pelletier. That started a 24-7 run, giving the Nor’easters a 78-67 lead with 6:11 to go.

“You could see, at the end, the difference between a veteran team and our youth,” Fifield said. “We have to figure out a way to stop people. We can’t give up 89 points.

“But we played hard. It had to be entertaining to watch.”

USM staged a mini rally, and forward Courtney Cochran’s layup closed the deficit to 79-77. But Bunnell and Paradis scored on drives, and Beth Suggs drew a charge to get the ball back again.

Paradis, who scored on 3-pointers (two), mid-range jumpers and drives, also had four blocks and seven rebounds in her 38 minutes of play.

“She was playing really tired,” Ewing said. “She’s going to have to play big minutes in games like this.”

The Nor’easters play in a tournament in Boston this weekend, then host Bowdoin next Tuesday. USM will host a tournament this weekend.

 

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

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