HAMDEN, Conn. — Side by side by side by side they sat at the far end of the Maine bench, hands on their knees staring at the court in stony disbelief.

Bella Swan, Anna Heise, Liz Wood and Mikaela Gustafsson – four of the eight seniors who have brought so much life to the Maine women’s basketball program – could only listlessly watch the final seconds tick away on a staggering defeat in their final game Friday.

Quinnipiac, a young team playing on its home court at TD Bank Sports Center, frolicked to a 90-44 victory in the opening round of the WNIT. It was by far the most lopsided loss of what had been a terrific season for the Black Bears, who finish 26-9.

“I think the most disappointing thing is just our fans and everyone who came here deserved better than that,” said Wood, who had seven points and six rebounds to conclude a fabulous career. “And we’ve worked harder than to go out like that.”

Maine’s hearts clearly weren’t in this game, perhaps a lingering effect of what happened last Friday, when Albany ended the Black Bears’ NCAA tournament hopes with a 59-58 victory in the America East Conference championship game.

How else to explain the befuddling blitzing by the Bobcats (25-8)? Quinnipiac, starting two sophomores and two freshmen against a senior-laden Maine squad, went on a 34-2 run to essentially seal the victory by halftime. Maine couldn’t shoot straight, seemed reluctant to defend or rebound, and fumbled its way to 11 first-half turnovers.

Quinnipiac freshman center Paula Strautmane scored a career-high 21 points, making all 10 of her field goals. Junior guard Adily Martucci added 18 points and sank 4 of 5 3-pointers. The Bobcats made 33 of 58 shots (56.9 percent), the best showing of any team this year against a Black Bears defense that entered play third in the nation while allowing only 50 points per game.

It was the most decisive victory in Quinnipiac’s 17-year Division I history.

“We didn’t bring our best effort, certainly, and maybe some of that had to do with the (AE) championship game,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said.

“We didn’t have our mental focus today, and then once we kind of got into that rut, it just seemed like we couldn’t claw out of it. Once we gave them that momentum, they were playing with great, great confidence.”

Junior guard Sigi Koizar scored 19 of her 23 points in the second half to lead Maine. No one else scored more than seven. The Black Bears’ reserves, playing a combined 71 minutes, managed only five points.

“Our defense was really bad. We didn’t get to the shooters and they made us pay for everything we did wrong,” Koizar said.

It was a stunning and unfortunate end for the seniors, who helped engineer a turnaround for Maine women’s basketball. The class suffered through a 4-24 freshman season, but went 49-19 over the last two seasons, sharing the league regular-season title with Albany both years.

“I wish that they could leave with a little bit better taste in their mouth than this game,” Barron said.

“We just felt like we were practicing well, we were excited to keep playing. Maybe we took Quinnipiac a little bit for granted, I don’t know.”

Maine’s 2014-15 season ended in the first round of the WNIT with a 71-60 loss at Villanova. In that one, the Black Bears battled back from a 19-point halftime deficit.

On Friday, before an announced crowd of 437, there was no such comeback. Maine never cut the deficit below 28 in the second half. Its previous worst loss this season was 91-64 at Minnesota on Nov. 20.

“It was foreign territory for us and at that point it was just kind of about pride. How do you want to go out? Just trying to play hard and just leave it all out on the court,” Wood said about the 45-15 halftime deficit.

“I never thought that we went on an extended run. I never felt like we were really in control of the game.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH


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