BANGOR — Its lead cut to two, all the momentum swinging to the other side, the University of Maine women’s basketball team did what it does best: Remain calm, regroup and take control.

The Black Bears turned back Hartford’s third-quarter challenge Friday night, then pulled away to earn another trip to the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament. With Tanesha Sutton and Blanca Millan combining for 25 second-half points, Maine overwhelmed the Hawks 68-48 in the America East championship game before a very loud crowd of 3,234 at Cross Insurance Center.

Maine (25-7) advances to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year and ninth time overall. The Black Bears will find out who they are playing, and when and where, at 7 p.m. Monday during the NCAA Selection Show on ESPN.

“I’m so proud of our kids,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon. “This year was so different from last year in so many different ways. Last year, no one expected us to do anything and somehow we found our way to win a championship. And this year, everyone expected us to be here. That’s a different challenge and our kids embraced it.”

Blanca, named the America East tournament’s most valuable player, scored 19 points to lead four Maine scorers in double figures. She also grabbed eight rebounds and had four steals. Parise Rossignol, the sharpshooter from Van Buren, scored 15 points, hitting five 3-pointers, while Sutton, scoreless in the first half, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Fanny Wadling had a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Sutton and sophomore point guard Dor Saar, who had nine points and seven assists, were named to the all-tournament team.

“Give credit to Maine,” said Hartford Coach Kim McNeill. “That’s a very good team. They just have a lot of weapons. They don’t make many mistakes. They play well together … They’re very confident and they’re experienced.”

Maine never trailed, scoring the first 10 points as Rossignol – who had been in a shooting slump – hit 3-pointers on the first two possessions. Inside baskets by Wadling and Millan made it 10-0, and McNeil called a timeout.

The Hawks (23-10) cut the lead to 32-26 by halftime. Then, baskets by Ella Awobajo and Sierra DaCosta – who each had 18 points for Hartford – made it 32-30 with 8:13 left in the third quarter.

That’s when Maine regrouped, scoring the next nine points to take control again.

“We knew at some point they were going to have a run, too,” said Saar. “So we just knew after the half we had to come out hard and just play our game and we’d be in good shape.”

Sutton started it with a three-point play, as she was fouled while putting in an offensive rebound. Hartford missed shots on its next two possessions, and Millan hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. After another Hartford miss, Sutton made another three-point play, grabbing another offensive rebound.

“They just kind of settled down and moved the ball and took great shots,” said Vachon. “When our team is moving the ball and playing together, we can be a tough team to guard.”

Maine then scored the final five points of the third, a 3-pointer by Rossignol and a 10-footer by Sutton, to lead 51-38. In the fourth, the Black Bears methodically extended the lead. They outscored the Hawks 36-18 over the final 18 minutes.

“It means everything,” said Rossignol. “I think about where I was two years ago and the opportunity I’ve had to come back here, just honestly live my dream, win back-to-back championships. I couldn’t have wrote it any better.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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