FAIRFIELD, Conn. — In the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, it was the second half and the second string that really stood out for Maine.
The Black Bears took apart Bucknell 77-47 on Wednesday, getting 30 points from reserve players and a near-perfect second half from Mikaela Gustafsson and Liz Wood, in particular.
The challenge is to take that show on the road for a quarterfinal at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fairfield (21-10).
Maine (17-14), seeded seventh in the East Region of the 16-team tournament, is coming off arguably its best half of basketball this season. The Black Bears made 17 of 28 shots while outscoring the Bison 39-20 in the second half. Wood, a sophomore forward, was the key to that.
Maine also owned an 18-13 rebounding edge in the second half. Gustafsson, a sophomore center, led that effort.
Wood scored only six of her 21 points in the first half Wednesday, limited to 10 minutes after picking up two fouls.
“We want Liz to be smart about some of her fouls and not take herself out of the game, know her value,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said. “I thought that she bounced back from that really well, obviously shot the ball great.”
Wood made six of her seven field-goal attempts in the second half, including all three 3-pointers. She was so determined to score that at one point, she gathered a deflected pass with a defender on her, stepped back and drained a 3 anyway, pumping up her teammates in the process.
“When somebody makes a play, that person is usually the least excited. Everybody else is more excited for that person than they are,” Maine senior Ashleigh Roberts said. “We celebrate each other’s baskets, like Liz’s stepback 3. We might have went a little crazy.”
Gustafsson, at 6-foot-2, grabbed five defensive rebounds in the second half to help limit Bucknell to two second-chance points in that span. She finished with 13 points, making 4 of 5 shots in the second half, and a game-high nine rebounds.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot,” Gustafsson said. “It’s important for us, especially the post players, to step up and start rebounding. … I and some other of us took that seriously and it might be a little late now, but you know, we still have a couple of games to go.”
Fairfield, seeded sixth, outlasted Bryant 90-86 in double overtime Wednesday. But the Stags’ starters played 225 of those 250 minutes, with Katie Cizynski going all 50.
It’s a stark contrast to a Maine team that used 11 players and has relied on depth all season.
“We felt like this year our players six through 12 were as good or better than anybody else’s six through 12 in the league,” Barron said, noting his team lacks a superstar.
“As far as the team concept goes, we’re as good a team as anybody.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: