It may be the best team in this American East women’s basketball tournament. And it’s the No. 5 seed.

Not only is New Hampshire (19-11) possibly peaking at the right time, it comes into Cross Insurance Arena with plenty of motivatation.

“Everyone in that locker room still feels the pain from last year,” said senior point guard Brittni Lai.

Last year the top-seeded Wildcats were upset 61-52 in the semifinals by fourth-seeded Maine. Now UNH is the underdog and, in this season of parity, seeks redemption.

“I really feel this whole thing is up for grabs,” Coach Maureen Magarity said. “Whoever decides to put the right days together and plays well can do something special.”

UNH, with seven seniors, was expected to repeat as the regular-season champion, yet stumbled to a 9-7 league record, including two losses to Maine.


“I get that question a lot,” Magarity said. “(People ask) ‘What’s up with your team? You show up some games, look incredible, and other games it’s completely different.’

“Unfortunately, that’s been our thing all year. Who’s going to show up?”

The Wildcats showed up Saturday with a 71-54 rout of fourth-seeded Stony Brook.

It’s been a weird season. The Wildcats ended January with a three-game losing streak, starting with a 56-46 loss to Maine. But Lai missed that game because of illness.

The Wildcats began February with an upset win over Albany, then finished the month 3-3, including a 77-46 loss in Bangor.

Now UNH gets a chance to do what Maine did last year – avenge two regular-season losses with a win over the top seed.

“Maybe it’s our time to have that energy,” senior guard/forward Olivia Healy said.

That energy needs to translate into points.

“We’ve really struggled scoring,” said Magarity, whose team ranks sixth in the league in offense (59.9-point average). “(Lai) makes such a difference. She knows she has to show up and play like (she did against Stony Brook – scoring 22 points).

“When she plays like (that), we’re a completely different team. She makes everybody better.”

All of the UNH regulars are seniors, except freshman guard Amanda Torres.

WHILE MAINE swept the season series, Coach Amy Vachon knows New Hampshire is a major threat.

“I know they’re not having the season they were hoping to have but they have seven seniors,” Vachon said. “When you’re playing against seniors, that’s tough. Especially against seniors (who are motivated by last year’s tournament loss). Last year didn’t end the way they wanted to.”

Last year’s upset was keyed by denying UNH’s money players inside – its 6-2 forwards Carlie Pogue and Kat Fogarty.

But two of Maine’s regular post players – 6-3 Anita Kelava and 6-2 Leia Sole – transferred. The Black Bears have been using a one-post system this year, with 6-1 Fanny Wadling handling the defense underneath. Guard/forward Tanesha Sutton, 5-10, will guard the other post player.

It’s a matchup the Wildcats believe they haven’t exploited enough.

“Our offensive mentality, we have to have more of an attack mode, like we did today,” Magarity said. “We really settled for a lot of contested jump shots both games (against Maine). We didn’t pound the ball inside.”

Magarity believes the key to stopping Maine is contain their shooters. “We have to defend the 3 … they just shoot the ball so well and they have so many weapons.”

SATURDAY’S ATTENDANCE for the first session at Cross Insurance Arena was 2,158.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH