ORONO — For four days, the University of Maine women’s basketball team had been dealing with the physical pain and emotional trauma resulting from Tuesday night’s bus crash in Massachusetts.
With the decision completely in their hands, the Black Bears on Friday voted to play Saturday’s America East regular-season finale against the University of New Hampshire.
“We had to sit down and have a real heart-to-heart conversation about it,” said Maine sophomore Courtney Anderson of Greene. “That decision was actually harder than going out and playing the game, for some people.”
The result for coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears on Saturday was an 86-63 loss to the Wildcats at Memorial Gym. That outcome was virtually irrelevant to the players.
“During that whole game, I didn’t think about the bus crash once,” said freshman Liz Wood. “It kept the mind off that.”
And while many players, coaches and staff members remain shaken by their ordeal, they wanted to play.
“We really said that we didn’t want our season to end with the bus crash,” Wood said.
“It didn’t sound like a good idea to any of us,” Anderson chimed in.
The Wildcats (11-17, 6-10 AE) took advantage of their frontcourt height and overall depth, pulling away late to beat Maine (4-24, 3-12 AE).
Barron said that he removed himself Friday from a team meeting, during which members discussed how to proceed, so that he would not influence their decision. Clearly, he did not.
“I was surprised that we played the game, to be honest with you,” Barron admitted. “I didn’t think it was in our best interest to play.”
However, Barron expressed doubt that his team would be willing to board a motor coach again in time to compete in the America East Championship, which begins Friday in Albany, N.Y.
He said the decision whether to play will be made by team members.
Barron said an additional source of motivation to play Saturday was the fact it was Senior Day. Corinne Wellington, Amber Smith and Rachele Burns were recognized before the game for their contributions.
Kelsey Hogan paced UNH with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Cari Reed tossed in 18 points, while Morgan Frame of Waterville (6 rebounds) and Ariel Gaston netted 10 points each.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Black Bears 55-34 in a solid performance.
“I wouldn’t have wanted them to come in here and take it easy on us,” said junior Ashleigh Roberts.
Maine was led by freshman guard Lauren Bodine, who connected for four 3-pointers en route to 18 points. Roberts contributed 14 points and seven rebounds, Wood posted 13 points and five rebounds and Anderson added 10 points and three assists.
As has been the case in dealing with the physical and emotional trauma in the aftermath of the crash, the players’ reactions to playing a game were different.
Roberts called it “emotional,” while Wood said, “It’s been a roller coaster.”
Anderson described the game as “overwhelming,” while Bodine referred to the experience as “up and down” emotionally.
The Black Bears only trailed by eight points (42-34) at halftime despite a lethargic half during which they seemed to gain momentum.
However, the Wildcats rattled off nine unanswered points, including a pair of offensive rebound hoops by Frame, to make it 51-36 less than three minutes into the second half.
Anderson later converted a conventional three-point play and buried a 3-pointer off a Sophie Weckstrom feed to get Maine within seven at 53-46 with 13:27 left, but the Wildcats responded with an 11-1 burst that gave them some breathing room.
The Wildcats found the shooting range early in the first half against Maine’s 2-3 zone defense, which did not have its usual energy. UNH wound up shooting 46 percent (19-for-41) from the field, which included 18 points in the paint.
The visitors also took advantage of their superior height, depth and intensity to outrebound Maine 27-14, a total that included 11 offensive boards.
Even so, the Bears hung around.
UNH pulled in front with a 13-0 surge that covered a little less than four minutes. Ariel Gaston scored five points and Reed provided two close-range baskets as the Wildcats grabbed a 17-6 lead with 13:06 left in the half.
Maine made a push during the last seven minutes of the half, spearheaded by a combination of aggressive dribble penetration and Bodine 3-pointers.
Wood’s basket from underneath and a Bodine 3-pointer off an inbounds play got the Bears within 30-23 at the 5:41 mark, but UNH pushed the margin back to 12.
Bodine and Wood combined to score the Bears’ last 11 points of the half to keep them in contention.