If the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team is indeed the nation’s best in Division III, it can take steps to prove it this weekend at Morrell Gymnasium.

After a Friday night game against Hamilton, the Polar Bears will face Amherst, the two-time defending national champion, at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Bowdoin (17-0, 4-0 New England Small College Athletic Conference), has been ranked No. 1 in both national polls since late November. That’s when Amherst (16-1, 3-0) dropped from the top spot after being upset by Eastern Connecticut, 70-67.

That loss ended the Mammoths’ 68-game winning streak. Amherst, now No. 3 in the coaches’ poll, and No. 4 in the d3hoops.com poll, has won its past five games against Bowdoin – their last meeting coming in the 2018 NCAA title game in Rochester, Minnesota, a 65-45 Amherst win.

And Amherst is still formidable.

“Amherst has a disciplined offense that makes them very effective,” Bowdoin Coach Adrienne Shibles said.

But Shibles isn’t looking past Friday’s game against Hamilton (10-5, 0-3). “They have a lot of young talent and depth, (and) an outstanding center we have to contend with.”

Amherst has players to contend with, too, especially All-Americans Hannah Fox and Madeline Eck. Fox, a 5-foot-7 guard, is averaging 18.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game. Eck, a 5-9 guard, is averaging 16.5 points and 5.9 rebounds.

The Mammoths use star power and a short bench – sometimes only six players get regular minutes in close games.

Bowdoin, meanwhile, uses depth and constant substitutions, with nine players averaging at least 12 minutes, none more than 26.

Shibles continually sends in players, looking for matchups and the right combinations. It’s worked to the tune of 85.9 points a game, second-best in the nation among of Division III teams.

Senior guard Abby Kelly, who recently passed 1,000 career points, leads the Polar Bears with a 14.3-point average. Maddie Hasson, a 5-11 junior and Bowdoin’s best inside presence, averages 13.8 points and 4.5 rebounds. Junior point guard Samantha Roy averages 8.3 points and 5.1 assists. Senior guard Taylor Choate can (11.6 average) can explode.

While the Polar Bears have been winning in blowouts – by an average of 35 points, and 15 points in conference games, Shibles thinks her team has been tested.

“We got down to Tufts to start the second half. We were getting outplayed by USM in the first quarter. Colby and Bates gave us their best efforts, and tough battles,” Shibles said.

“In every case our team showed confidence, and responded with big shots and big plays.”

The win at Tufts (82-63) was huge. The sixth-ranked Jumbos (17-1, 4-1) are the other chief contender in the NESCAC (Amherst and Tufts play on Feb. 1).

Finishing first in the conference means a team will host the NESCAC Final Four – if it survives the quarterfinal round.

It is tough to name a favorite for Saturday. Bowdoin can score but the Mammoths feature height (5-10 and 6-1 underneath) and a strong defense that’s allowing 48.6 points, the ninth-best in the nation.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH