When the University of Maine women’s basketball team faces nationally ranked teams, the Black Bears are usually at a size disadvantage.

That’ll be the case again at 6 p.m. Saturday when Maine (23-9) takes on eighth-ranked Texas (26-6) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Longhorns’ 16,540-seat Frank Erwin Center in Austin. The game will be televised by ESPN2.

Maine is seeded 15th in its 16-team region. Texas is No. 2. The winner plays Monday against Arizona State or Nebraska.

Texas has formidable size with post players who are 6-foot-4 and 6-3 and a strong 5-11 guard. In the Longhorns’ last win in the Big 12 semifinals, they scored 40 of their 68 points in the paint.

Maine will counter with a starting lineup that has only one post player, 6-1 sophomore forward Fanny Wadling. As she has all year, Wadling will be counted on for an assortment of tasks.

“Fanny’s been awesome,” Maine Coach Amy Vachon said. “She does so much.”

In the 74-65 win over Hartford in the America East championship game, Wadling scored 10 points, made three steals and led the team in rebounds (eight) and assists (six). She also helped shore up the defense inside.

Wadling’s responsibilities increased after last season when one forward graduated and three others transferred.

“We knew we still had a good team,” Wadling said. “Coach Amy was on us all the time, telling us, ‘it’s not over. We can do so much with this team.’ We just believed.”

Wadling, from Nacka, Sweden, welcomed Vachon’s four-guard, one-post system, with Wadling moving constantly.

“Yeah, I like that,” Wadling said. “When I played back home, I played on the perimeter, so it fits me perfect.”

When then-head coach Richard Barron recruited Wadling, he said, “she reminds me of a left-handed version of Magic Johnson, a tall, strong point-forward with excellent court vision and scoring ability.”

Wadling is fourth on the team in scoring (6.4 average) and assists (62), second in rebounding (5.7 average) and blocks (16) and third in steals (36).

Maine’s other starters are 6-1 Blanca Millán, 5-11 Tanesha Sutton, 5-8 Julie Brosseau and 5-6 Dor Saar. The top reserves are 6-2 Kirsten Johnson and 5-8 Parise Rossignol.

Millan is the top scorer (17.7 average), but the Black Bears have had balanced scoring.

“They can shoot and they have a lot of craftiness about them,” Texas Coach Karen Aston said in a press conference Friday. “Maine really spreads it out and scores in a lot of ways.”

Texas also uses a seven-player rotation, although the Longhorns did lose 6-4 senior Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau to a wrist injury (she had 37 blocks in 23 games).

The Longhorns’ top post player is 6-4 junior Jatarie White. She averages 10.5 points, but scored 18 in a January loss to Connecticut.

That 75-71 loss to the Huskies was the closest any team has come to beating undefeated UConn, the overwhelming favorite in this year’s tournament.

The Texas guards are potent, led by 5-4 senior point guard Brooke McCarty, last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year (and a Big 12 first-team selection this year). She averages 13.9 points and has 58 3-pointers and 102 assists.

Another senior guard, 5-11 Ariel Atkins, leads the team with a 14.8 scoring average, 135 assists, 85 steals and 24 blocks.

An Atkins vs. Millán matchup seems likely.

Lashann Higgs, a 5-9 guard, also averages double figures (12.8). Joyner Holmes, at 6-3, replaced Caron-Goudreau in the lineup and keeps that height advantage for Texas.

“We understand they’re bigger than us,” Vachon said. “But we’ll try and do some different things.

“You have to box them out. They’re going to get rebounds. They’re going to get lobs … We want to try to make them take the shots that they’re not comfortable taking.”

That’s what Aston expects.

“We could potentially have an advantage in the paint,” she said. “We have to be careful about just trying to pound the ball inside. I guess (Maine) will have an answer for that.”

Aston noted that the guards have been her team’s best scorers and she said she’s considering using four guards to counter Maine’s lineup.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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