BANGOR — Late in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s America East 69-36 quarterfinal win over the University of New Hampshire, University of Maine point guard Dor Saar drove to the basket for a sure layup after a steal. Saar had a good shot, but she knew Tanesha Sutton would have a better one.

Saar didn’t need to see Sutton. She just knew Sutton was there. Saar’s no-look, over the shoulder pass was perfect, Sutton made the layup, and the Black Bears led 20-5.

“I thought I was going to make a layup, but (the defender) came at me. I knew Tanesha was going to make it,” Saar said.  Sitting next to Saar at the postgame press conference, Sutton and Blanca Millan smiled. They’ve seen Saar make passes like that in practice all the time.

It’s not often you can call a basket that results in a 15-point lead the play of the game, but here we are. On a night in which pretty much everything went right for the Black Bears, this was the prettiest play.

This game was never in doubt, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Maine beat the Wildcats twice in the regular season, 67-46 in the Cross Insurance Center on Jan. 2, and 69-45 at UNH on Feb. 2. On Wednesday, the Black Bears scored the first nine points of the game, forced a turnover of each of UNH’s first three possessions, and never looked back.

“I thought we came out in the first quarter and played well, with a lot of intensity,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said. “I don’t think we shot the ball great tonight, but I love that we had 19 offensive rebounds. We were going after the glass, and 26 second chance is really great.”

Technically, the Black Bears will advance after the America East tournament, no matter what. As regular-season conference champion, Maine has an invitation to the NIT. It’s an invitation they certainly do not want to accept. To play in the NIT means the Black Bears did not complete the goal of winning the conference. Maine went to the NIT in 2015 and 2016 after winning the regular-season America East title and falling in the tournament. As far as consolation prizes go, playing in the NIT is little consolation.

In 2016, the Black Bears went to Quinnipiac for an NIT. They showed up physically, but mentally never got on the bus and lost 90-44. The NCAA tournament, which Maine played in last season for the first time since 2004, is the real prize. The Black Bears need to continue to lean into that experience.

“It really helps. Going through it once, you know how everything works. Maybe the anxiety or whatever you want to call it we had last year, like some new players had last year, this year they don’t have it,” Millan said.

Almost everything the Black Bears need to do, everything they’ve done to enjoy success thus far this season, was on display Wednesday night. There were big offensive games from Millan (19 points) and Sutton (24 points). The Black Bears had 13 steals, with four players grabbing three, and that contributed to 21 UNH turnovers. The Black Bears held the Wildcats to 25 percent shooting from the field. Maine was 18 for 21 at the line.

There are also things to improve. The Black Bears shot 35.9 percent (23 of 64) from the field, well below their season average of 42.8 percent. Making layups, particularly in the third quarter when Maine was just 2 for 13 from the floor, became a burden for the Black Bears.

“We need to make layups. We left about 25 points out on the floor tonight. If we can take care of those, I’ll be much happier,” Vachon said.

Sunday afternoon, the  Black Bears host Albany in the semifinals. The game will be in Memorial Gym on campus, known fondly as The Pit, due to  a scheduling conflict with the Cross Insurance Center. The Professional Bull Riders are coming to town.

Like the bull riders taking over their home arena, the Black Bears have a goal, and they know what they need to do to avoid being thrown off.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or 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.