The road to a possible NCAA Division III women’s basketball championship continues for Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine – literally.

Southern Maine advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 18th time in last 23 years Sunday, repeating Bowdoin’s feat of a day earlier by rallying from a modest second-half deficit to top Fitchburg State, 65-54, in a second-round contest at Hill Gymnasium.

Both Maine teams move into the regional semifinals. Instead of sharing the court in Gorham or Brunswick next weekend, as many local fans probably hoped, the Huskies and Polar Bears will pack their bags and tackle separate road trips.

Two of the consensus top three teams in the country have been assigned to the regional in Scranton, Pa.

No. 1 Bowdoin (28-1) will face the University of Rochester (22-5) on Friday evening, followed by a clash between No. 3 Scranton (27-2) and Mary Washington (28-2). The winners square off Saturday.

USM (27-2) next faces Calvin (27-2) in Boston. In the second game, host Emmanuel (29-1) takes on DePauw (27-3). The survivors of those two Friday encounters are also ticketed for a Saturday final.

Official game times will be announced today.

Last March, USM edged Bowdoin in a regional final played before a sold-out crowd of 2,000 in the Huskies’ home gym.

Anticipated attendance is one factor in the NCAA’s choice of regional host sites, but central location is another. The eight schools on the Eastern side of the bracket are a more geographically diverse lot than usual, hailing from seven different states.

Next weekend’s regional winners advance to the Final Four on March 16 and 17 in Springfield, Mass. Southern Maine seeks its third consecutive trip to the national semifinals. Bowdoin looks to return for the first time since it lost in the 2004 title game.

Stacey Kent sank five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points to hoist the Huskies past Fitchburg State. USM trailed 51-44 with eight minutes remaining before concluding the game with a 21-3 run, beginning with 11 straight points. Lindsey Welch started the parade with a 3-pointer.

Ashley Marble registered her 22nd double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds for Southern Maine. Angela Santa Fe added 12 points. Nicole Paradis produced nine, all on 3-point shots.

USM went 6-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc in the first half, but most of that success came early. The Falcons embarked upon a 25-9 rampage to take a 31-30 lead at the break.

Kent wound up 5-for-7 from long range, and the Huskies knocked down 9-of-20 overall to overcome 27 turnovers. Southern Maine also cemented the game at the free-throw line, hitting 16-of-22.

The Falcons were less efficient, stumbling to 4-for-17 from 3-point range and 4-of-10 from the line.

Krystle O’Brien scored 13 points for Fitchburg State (26-3), which picked up its first-ever NCAA tournament win on Saturday over Norwich. D’yana Delpero and Steph Payette each dropped in a dozen for the Falcons.

Southern Maine and Calvin of Grand Rapids, Mich., have never met in women’s basketball. Bowdoin and Scranton could wind up meeting in a regional final for the third time in four years. The Polar Bears prevailed in 2004, with the Royals returning the favor in 2005.


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