Amherst College is the recent standard of excellence for Division III women’s basketball.

Ranked No. 1 with an 18-0 record, the Mammoths are defending national champions, riding a 51-game winning streak with an 81-2 record over the past 83 games.

Bowdoin gets a crack at the Mammoths at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Polar Bears are ranked No. 3 in one national poll (No. 4 in the other), also with an 18-0 record. It is Bowdoin’s best start to a season in 14 years – when the Polar Bears went 30-1, losing in the national title game.

Is this Bowdoin team that good?

“It feels great. Kind of surreal,” said senior guard Lauren Petit. “We still feel like just any other team … not like we’re one of the best teams.”

But they are. And Saturday’s game is a benchmark for the Polar Bears. Amherst has been a power the past 10 years with seven NESCAC titles, four Final Four appearances and two national titles.

If Bowdoin can win Saturday, it will be on track to host the NESCAC tournament – a competition the Polar Bears last won in 2009.

Bowdoin last beat Amherst in 2015, when the Polar Bears won both a regular-season game and conference tournament game.

Petit was a freshman coming off the bench in those games, scoring six points in one game and eight in another.

“Obviously, I was nervous but, from the experience I had, I also felt comfortable,” Petit said. “Coach does a great job of getting all her players in.”

Indeed, Adrienne Shibles loves to build depth by using as many players as possible. None of her players average more than 22 minutes a game.

“I believe in giving the freshmen valuable experience,” Shibles said.

Of course, Shibles can empty her bench often with the Polar Bears winning by 40.3 points a game, the best margin among Division III teams.

Bowdoin is impressive in other categories, ranking third in points (85.8 per game), field-goal percentage (47.8) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.41).

“I love that we have so many weapons,” Shibles said. “Anyone, on any day, could be our leading scorer.”

Much of Bowdoin’s scoring comes from its guards – 5-foot-8 Abby Kelly (12.1 average), 5-7 Kate Kerrigan (10.0), 5-8 Petit (9.4) and 5-6 Taylor Choate (9.3).

Petit (30 3-pointers) and Kelly (27) are the main outside threats.

Scoring will not be so easy on Saturday. The Mammoths are a defensive power, ranking first in scoring defense (allowing 39.1 points a game) and field-goal percentage defense (allowing 27.5 percent).

Amherst has totaled 102 blocks and 175 steals. Its frontline is led by 6-foot Emma McCarthy (9.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, with 33 steals and 21 blocks). The guards, 5-6 Madeline Eck and 5-7 Hannah Fox, both lead the team with 11.9 scoring averages.

“They’re solid and athletic in all their spots,” Shibles said.

Both are 4-0 in the league and have a NESCAC game to play on Friday night, with Bowdoin at Hamilton (13-5, 1-3), and Amherst hosting Colby (7-9, 1-3).

Barring an upset, Saturday will be a showdown of unbeatens.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH