University of Maine head coach Amy Vachon huddles with her players during a timeout. Vachon has an 11-1 coaching record in the America East tournament, including championships in 2018 and 2019.  Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The University of Maine’s women’s basketball team knows Stony Brook has been its toughest conference opponent the past two seasons.

The teams have split four close games, none decided by more than five points.

But the Black Bears (17-2) are confident entering Friday’s America East championship game against Stony Brook (14-5) in Orono, with the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.

Confident that unlike the two regular-season games at Stony Brook, which the teams split, they will not be limited to one good offensive quarter. Confident that their woeful shooting for the first seven quarters of those two games was an aberration, not a predictor.

“I think we’re definitely so much better offensively. We didn’t play Stony Brook that long ago but I know we’re so much better,” said senior Blanca Millán, the America East Player of the Year who leads Maine in scoring (21.4 points) and rebounding (7.5). “We just have to stick to our offense. We have a great offense.”

Friday’s game starts at 5 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. No fans will be allowed at Memorial Gym because of pandemic restrictions.

Advertisement

Maine will feature a starting lineup with four seniors who have already been part of two NCAA tournament teams. The Black Bears expect to score like they have all season, when they led the league in points (66.5 per game), shooting (42.8 percent) and 3-point shooting (33.1 percent), as opposed to the woeful 30.6 and 17.9 shooting percentages it had during the first seven quarters at Stony Brook in mid-February.

That led to a 59-54 loss and a nine-point hole entering the fourth quarter of the second game, in which Maine pulled out 54-49 victory thanks to a 24-10 advantage in the final 10 minutes.

“We had two tough games against them,” Saar said. “Something that we learned we should improve is executing on offense. Of course we need to do both, offense and defense, but if we execute on offense and defense we should be in good shape.”

This is the sixth straight season Maine has qualified for the America East championship game. Last year’s game, scheduled to be played at Stony Brook, was canceled after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the NCAA Tournament. Maine has won the past two title games played, beating Hartford in 2018 and 2019. Maine is looking for its 10th conference title.

Stony Brook, in its 20th season in the league, is looking for its first America East title. The Seawolves are known for their stingy defense, ranking second nationally in points allowed per game at 50.2. Maine is sixth-best, allowing 52.2 points per game.

“We played two great games with Maine here in the regular season so we’re excited about the matchup,” said Stony Brook Coach Caroline McCombs.

Advertisement

“Look, Stony Brook is a great defensive team. I also think we missed shots,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon, who is 11-1 in America East playoff games. “(Senior guard) Kelly Fogarty had two wide open shots where she literally hit the side of the basket. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that girl do that.”

Maine went to a full-court press in the fourth quarter of its win at Stony Brook, forcing three straight turnovers that led to a 6-0 run to tie the game, 41-41.

“We started pressing hard and that was the turning point,” Vachon said.

Maine pressed Albany for the full 40 minutes in its 67-47 semifinal victory on Sunday. Vachon hinted Maine might use the same tactic against Stony Brook.

“I think our press helps a lot,” Millán said. “We don’t get a steal all the time but we can get them to start their offense with 12, 14 seconds left on the shot clock.”

On Wednesday, Millán was named one of five finalists for the national 2021 Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award. While she is the game’s star attraction, both teams feature a number of players who can do damage.

Advertisement

Stony Brook had seven players with seven or more points in its 75-55 America East semifinal win, four in double figures. That was way too much for UMass-Lowell to handle, said junior guard Anastasia Warren.

“They don’t know who to guard, so we’re going to make plays and somebody’s going to end up open and knock down the shots,” Warren said in the post-game zoom press conference.

Point guard Asiah Dingle, a transfer from Kent State, leads the team with 11.2 points per game. Warren (10.1 ppg, team-high 24 3-pointers) and senior 6-foot-1 center India Pagan (9.7 pp) aren’t far behind. Earlette Scott, a transfer from Providence College, has started the last nine games for Stony Brook, adding tenacity on the offensive glass with over six points and nearly five rebounds per game.

Warren, Pagan, and defensive stopper Hailey Zeise and America East Sixth Player of the Year McKenzie Bushee are holdovers from last year’s 28-3 team. Last season against Maine, Pagan scored 26 points (on 13-of-14 shooting) in a 73-69 win and 15 points in a 64-62 overtime loss at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Maine also has multiple scoring threats in sophomore guard Anne Simon (12.8 points per game), four-year starting point guard Saar (9.7 ppg), and senior post player Maeve Carroll (10.5 ppg). Simon and Saar join Millán and Fogarty as threats from behind the arc.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.