Offensively, the University of Maine women’s basketball team started slowly Sunday in its America East semifinal against Albany. The Black Bears made just one of their first seven shots, and the Great Danes had a five-point lead.

Maine’s defense, though, was never in a funk, and that’s why Albany did not take full advantage of the Black Bears’ early shooting woes. Even when Maine’s offense awoke, its defense was a critical factor throughout a 67-47 win.

Once again, Maine’s defensive effort was exceptional. That’s why the Black Bears are 17-2 and going to the America East championship game for the sixth consecutive season. Last season’s championship game at Stony Brook was canceled in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as Maine was arriving in Stony Brook. The Black Bears turned around and went home, but they’ll get a chance to play Stony Brook this year, at 5 p.m. Friday in Orono.

Maine forced 17 Albany turnovers and scored 20 points off those turnovers. The Great Danes were held to 36.4 percent shooting (16 for 44). This was the ninth time this season Maine has allowed fewer than 50 points. The Black Bears entered the game sixth in the nation in points allowed per game and 27th in defensive field goal percentage.

The Black Bears pestered the Great Danes for most of the game’s 40 minutes. What little offense Albany did generate did not come easily.

“Defense is huge. That’s really what makes us go. I thought we did a nice job today creating turnovers and getting some baskets off that,” Maine Coach Amy Vachon said. “Our assistants do a great job in game planning, and creating a game plan to help us figure out how we’re going to guard different teams. We want to take away what they really like to do … It’s very rare that we guard things incorrectly in games, and that’s a tribute to our players.”

The Black Bears took away Albany’s inside duo of 6-foot-3 Lucia Decortes and 6-1 Helne Haegerstrand. It didn’t matter that Maine gave up a few inches in size to the Great Danes. It’s rare that Maine has a size advantage over an opponent. Decortes and Haegerstrand average a combined 17 points per game. Sunday afternoon, they scored two points apiece, combining to make 2 of 8 shots.

“Most of our offense is predicated on our post players, and they did not allow our post players to bring it this game. Every time the ball went inside, they doubled on the post, and several of our turnovers came from the ball going inside to the post,” Albany senior guard Kyara Frames said. “They took us out of what we wanted to do. They took us out of our offense, and a team that can take you out of your offense has the better chance of winning the game.”

You can’t turn it over against Maine, Albany Coach Colleen Mullen said, because the Black Bears turn those turnovers into points. A 10-point deficit balloons to 20 points, then 30.

“They pressured Lucia. They made her feel uncomfortable. Every time Helene got the ball near the basket, they had two or three people on (her),” Mullen said. “They did a great job deflecting those passes, really taking away our inside game.”

Shooters may slump, or need a few minutes to find rhythm. Sunday, Maine’s defense provided the offense all the time it needed. Again.


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