Preseason polls are often tricky. Any number of things, especially injuries, can derail what was expected to be a successful season.

But the folks in America East women’s basketball got it right this year. The teams picked to finish 1-2 in the preseason poll will meet Friday in the league championship game.

Top-seeded Maine (24-7, 15-1 conference) will play second-seeded Hartford (23-9, 14-2) at 5 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The winner will advance to the NCAA tournament. The loser likely will head to the women’s NIT.

This is the second straight year these teams meet in the America East title game; Maine won last season, 74-65.

The Black Bears will be playing in their 19th America East title game – and fourth straight – with eight championships. Hartford is playing in its 11th, with five titles.

“You’ve got the two best teams in the league,” said Hartford Coach Kim McNeill. “We had an opportunity to finish first (and host the title game) but laid an egg in Binghamton. Now we know if we want to win the championship, we have to go through Maine.”

This is an intriguing match-up, featuring one of the nation’s top defensive teams (Hartford) against a very balanced offensive team (Maine). Hartford is second in the nation in steals per game (13.2), forced turnovers per game (24.9) and turnover margin (plus-9.7), and is 19th in the nation in points allowed (56.2). Maine was second in the nation in turnovers (only 11.1 per game), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.44) and leads America East with 67.2 points per game.

“They play a style of basketball very different from a lot of teams,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon. “They’re up and down, they want to turn you over. They want to create offense off their turnovers so they press a lot. That’s not something you see much.”

Vachon said the Black Bears simply have to do what they’ve done all season: rebound, move the ball and avoid turnovers.

“We’ve just got to do the little things that have gotten us to this point,” she said. “We’re not going to change a lot.”

The teams split in the regular season with Hartford winning at home 49-46 on Jan. 16 and Maine winning at home, 78-58 on Feb. 13.

In the first game, Maine’s leading scorer, Blanca Millan, got in early foul trouble and was never a factor. In the second, Tanesha Sutton scored 24 to help Maine pull away in the second half.

“We don’t want to get into a shootout with them. They shoot too well,” McNeill said of Maine’s league-leading 42.1 percent field-goal accuracy. “We will lose in a shootout. We’ve got to defend, not let them shoot and score off our defense.”

The Hawks are led by senior guard Lindsey Abed at 14.9 points per game (and a team-high 85 steals), followed by junior guard Sierra DaCosta (12.0 points, team-high 2.5 assists), forward Ella Awobajo (10.4 points, 4.4 rebounds), a transfer from Boston College, and sophomore guard Jade Young (8.9 points, team-high 5.7 rebounds).

The Black Bears are paced by junior forward/guard Millan, the America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, at 17.6 points and a team-high 86 steals, followed by senior guard Sutton (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds), senior guard Parise Rossignol (11.0 points), sophomore guard Dor Saar (9.2 points, 4.9 assists) and junior forward Fanny Wadling (6.4 points, 8.9 rebounds).

“We play pretty well together. We move the ball well,” said Vachon. “This is a fun team to watch, a fun team to coach.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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