BOX SCORE

Portland 54 Bangor 42

B- 12 7 9 14- 42
P- 10 19 16 9- 54

B- Quinn 2-5-9, Andrews 3-1-7, Cowperthwaite 3-0-6, L. Fleming 2-1-6, Streams 2-1-5, Isaacs 1-2-4, Williams 1-1-3, A. Fleming 0-2-2

P- A. Kabantu 7-6-20, Motema 4-2-10, Yugu 2-4-9, Eubanks 3-0-6, D. Kabantu 2-2-6, Wakati 1-0-2, Tuza 0-1-1

3-pointers:
B (1) L. Fleming 1
P (1) Yugu 1

Turnovers:
B- 18
P- 15

FTs
B; 13-25
P: 15-19

PORTLAND—Amanda Kabantu is getting her wish.

For the first time, she and her teammates are going to play more than one tournament game on the Cross Insurance Arena floor.

And perhaps more.

Thursday afternoon, the second-ranked Portland girls’ basketball team battled No. 3 Bangor in a Class AA North semifinal and despite being idle for nine days, the Bulldogs demonstrated how unstoppable they can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.

After a nip-and-tuck first quarter saw the Rams hold a 12-10 lead, Bangor went up by five, 19-14, early in the second period, but Portland came to life with a stirring 15-0 run, sparked by Kabantu, the standout junior, who nearly had a double-double in the first half alone, and junior Gemima Motema, who made a sensational play in the final seconds to get to a loose ball and feed Kabantu for a layup and a 29-19 halftime advantage.

The Bulldogs extended their lead to 45-28 after three quarters, then never let the Rams get closer than 12 down the stretch as they went on to a 54-42 victory.

Kabantu wound up with 20 points and 14 rebounds and Motema also had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds as Portland improved to 17-3, ended Bangor’s season at 13-7 and advanced to the Class AA North Final Saturday at 2 p.m., to battle top-ranked, defending state champion Oxford Hills (19-1) at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“This means the world to me,” Amanda Kabantu said. “We’re trying to make history. It’s just awesome.”

Onslaught

The Bulldogs won 15 times during the regular season, losing only to Oxford Hills (twice) and Bangor and wound up the No. 2 seed in Class AA North for the second time in three years, then they defeated No. 7 Edward Little, 58-25, behind Kabantu’s 32 points in last week’s quarterfinal round (see sidebar, above, for links to previous game stories).

Bangor won a dozen games during the regular season and advanced by downing No. 6 Lewiston, 50-31, in last week’s quarterfinal round.

The Bulldogs split with the Rams this season, beating them in the opener Dec. 6 in Portland, 55-44, then falling, 49-36, Jan. 9 in Bangor.

The teams had met just once in the postseason, a 62-39 Bulldogs’ win in the 2018 quarterfinals.

Thursday, Portland overcame a slow start with a brilliant display of athleticism and skill.

The game was tied three times in the first quarter as each squad tried to gain control.

Bangor junior Maggie Cowperthwaite scored on a putback to open the scoring, but Kabantu answered with a putback of her own, then senior captain Kiera Eubanks made a layup.

Cowperthwaite tied it with a baseline jumper, but Motema hit a jumper in the lane, then Kabantu sank two free throws.

The Rams answered on a putback from freshman Abbie Quinn and a Quinn free throw, but on the fastbreak, Motema set up Kabantu for a layup and a 10-7 lead.

Bangor would score five points in the quarter’s final 12 seconds, as junior Libby Fleming tied it with a 3, then, off an inbounds set, freshman Emilyn Streams passed to Fleming for a layup just before the horn for a 12-10 advantage.

Portland then hit its stride in the second period, closing on a 15-0 run to take a double-digit lead to halftime.

After senior Davina Kabantu opened the quarter with a free throw, she missed her second, but got the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to sophomore Elizabeth Yugu for a 3 and a 14-12 lead.

The Rams then rattled off seven straight, as Cowperthwaite tied it with a short jumper, senior Rowan Andrews made a layup after a nice move and Streams converted an old-fashioned three-point play (bank shot, foul and free throw) with 4:51 to go in the half for a 19-14 advantage.

But Bangor wouldn’t score again before the break and the Bulldogs roared back, with their multiple skills on display.

After Yugu made a layup after a steal, Amanda Kabantu sank two free throws and with 2:58 to go, Motema scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw to give Portland the lead.

Davina Kabantu added a bank shot in transition, Eubanks hit a jump shot, Yugu sank two free throws, then with time winding down, Motema stole the ball and set up Amanda Kabantu for a highlight reel layup and the Bulldogs enjoyed a 29-19 advantage at halftime.

“That wasn’t the beginning we wanted,” said Motema. “We were a little nervous, but we were fine in the second quarter.”

“We got back to playing simple basketball,” Portland coach Gerry Corcoran said. “We just needed to slow down. Our athletes are so aggressive and so talented. It’s about slowing their minds down.”

In the first half, Amanda Kabantu had a near double-double (10 points, nine rebounds), while Motema added five points (as well as six rebounds, four assists and four steals) and Yugu had seven points.

Portland then picked right up where it left off when the second half commenced.

After Motema missed her first shot, she got the rebound, missed again, then finished. Motema then added a free throw before a Quinn layup 59 seconds into the half ended Bangor’s 5-minute, 50-second drought and the Bulldogs’ 18-0 run.

Portland wrested momentum right back, as Eubanks fed Amanda Kabantu for a layup, Amanda Kabantu converted a three-point play and after Andrews made one free throw for the Rams, Motema put back her own miss for a 39-22 advantage.

Streams banked home a shot for Bangor, but Amanda Kabantu made a jump shot and sophomore Naulissa Tuza added a free throw to make it 42-24.

Quinn countered with two free throws but Davina Kabantu hit one, then Davina Kabantu got a jumper to rattle home.

Junior Emily Isaacs made two foul shots in the final minute, but that only drew the Rams within 45-28 heading to the fourth period.

The final stanza was interminable, as numerous fouls were called, but Portland never wavered and wrapped up its first trip to the regional final in 21 years.

Isaacs opened the fourth period with a layup, but Amanda Kabantu threw a long pass to Eubanks for a layup.

Junior Abby Fleming made two free throws for Bangor, then Andrews added another before Quinn sank a pair to cut the deficit to 47-35, but after a steal, Motema passed to sophomore Lina Wakati for a layup, Yugu made two foul shots, Amanda Kabantu hit one and with 1:17 to go, an Amanda Kabantu layup gave the Bulldogs their final points and a 54-35 advantage.

Down the stretch, Andrews banked home a shot, Andrews made a layup after a steal, junior Allyson Williams hit a foul shot, then Williams made a layup just before the horn, but Portland was still able to celebrate its 54-42 victory.

“We wanted this win,” Motema said. “We want to make the high school proud of the team and win for the seniors.”

“We want to play every game like it’s our last one and we did,” Amanda Kabantu said. “We got down, but to our credit, we kept our composure and slowed it down. There’s no reason to go fast and not make anything happen. We came back and I’m super-proud. We talked before the game that whatever happens, keep our composure and make something happen. We just wanted to make a play, dive on the floor, give everything we have.”

“It’s awesome,” Corcoran added. “We had a nice walk through this morning, then we went to the high school and I showed them the last Gold Ball and we talked about envisioning before we execute. I’m trying to get the girls to understand the significance of this. It was a tough first half and credit to Bangor for that, but we wear you down. We’re starting to play very good basketball. Our defense was lights-out.”

Amanda Kabantu had her second consecutive stellar playoff outing, leading all players with 20 points and 14 rebounds.

“I don’t care about scoring,” Kabantu said. “I just care about helping my team as much as I can. I can do that by rebounding offensively and working hard.”

“I’m super-proud of (Amanda),” said Motema, Kabantu’s cousin. “She’s playing so well.”

Motema added 10 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists.

“Our stars played like stars,” Corcoran said. “It’s tough to get them off the floor.”

Yugu had nine points (as well as three steals), Eubanks contributed six points, five rebounds and a pair of steals, Davina Kabantu had six points and three steals before fouling out, Wakati added two points and Tuza had one.

“Everyone contributed,” said Amanda Kabantu. “It’s not all about scoring. It’s steals, rebounding, defense, anything you can do.”

The Bulldogs had a 36-25 rebounding advantage, made an impressive 15-of-19 free throws and overcame 15 turnovers.

For Bangor, Quinn led the way with nine points. Andrews added seven (to go with four rebounds and three steals), Cowperthwaite had six points (as well as four rebounds and two blocked shots), Libby Fleming also had six points, while Streams finished with five (and five assists), Isaacs four, Williams three and Abby Fleming two.

The Rams turned the ball over 18 times and made just 13-of-25 free throws.

A long time in coming

The last time Portland’s girls’ team played in a regional final, Ed Feeney was the coach and the Cross Insurance Arena was known as the Civic Center. The Bulldogs lost, 63-55, to Lewiston in the 1999 Western A Final and now get another chance to move on to the state game for the first time since 1997.

Oxford Hills is a daunting foe, one that Portland couldn’t solve in the regular season, losing, 60-32 Dec. 13 in Oxford and 48-38 Jan. 23 in Portland.

The teams met just once prior in the playoffs, in last year’s semifinals, a 47-36 Vikings’ victory.

The Bulldogs will be the underdog, but if they click as they have the past two playoff games, they have a great shot to spring the upset.

“I’m super-excited to go to the regional final,” Motema said. “We just have to play defense and make our shots.”

“It’s all about defense,” Amanda Kabantu said. “We need to play smarter than the first two times. We’re the most athletic team in the state. Little mistakes will hurt us and we can’t afford to make them (Saturday).”

“We’ll do what we did today, contain the 3-point line and pay attention to (Oxford Hills’ Miss Maine Basketball semifinalists Cecelia) Dieterich and (Julia) Colby and where they are on the floor at all times,” Corcoran added. “We’re at the point of the season where, with all due respect to Oxford Hills, we’re in the best shape of anybody. We have tremendous athletes.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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