BIDDEFORD — This University of New England women’s basketball team appears on the verge of returning to championship form.

But, as a reminder that the Nor’easters’ road will still have some bumps, defending league champion Western New England came into the Harold Alfond Forum on Saturday afternoon and handed UNE its first conference loss, 53-42. The Nor’easters scored 20 points fewer than their average.

University of New England’s Abby Cavallaro jumps up to catch a pass. Cavallaro averages 13 points per game for the Nor’easters and had 10 points on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“It was partially because of our defense, but maybe they had an off day, too,” Western New England Coach Nicole Chaszar said, “because that is a really, really good team.”

Both team are tied atop the Commonwealth Coast Conference with 6-1 records. Western New England is 13-3 overall.

The Nor’easters are 12-4, with three losses coming to nationally-ranked teams, including No. 1 Tufts and No. 2 Bowdoin.

Last year, when UNE finished with an 11th-straight winning record (15-12), it did not reach the usual lofty expectations of the Nor’easters, who have seven conference titles and eight NCAA appearances under Coach Anthony Ewing (276-86 in his 13th season at UNE).

The Nor’easters quickly rebuilt and look to be contending for another NCAA bid.

“We’re absolutely going to be a contender,” said senior guard Sadie Nelson of Windham. “This whole season, we’ve felt that.”

On Saturday, however, the Nor’easters could not make a basket, shooting 29 percent. Western New England shot 42 percent.

“We played OK defensively,” Nelson said. “Offensively, we seemed timid, a little scared. That’s what we have to change.”

UNE leads the league in 3-pointers (109) and 3-point shooting percentage (32 percent) but was 3 for 22 against Western New England, which played an aggressive man-to-man defense.

“They’re a really well put-together team,” said Western New England guard Lauren Chadwick, of Gardiner. “It’s a little more complicated guarding a team with three really good 3-point shooters. We studied our scouting report and had to really contain them, stay in front of them. We did a really good job with that.”

University of New England’s Jocelyn Chaput takes a shot while being guarded by Western New England’s Lauren Chadwick. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Chadwick, a 5-6 junior, led all scorers with 15 points. UNE’s 6-foor-3 freshman, Kaylee Beyor, and sophomore guard Abby Cavallaro led the Nor’easters with 10 points apiece. Cavallaro, of South Portland, is one of the league’s top 3-point shooters, but was 2 for 10 on Saturday.

UNE led 10-8 after the first quarter, but Western New England took a 23-19 halftime lead and never trailed. Chadwick hit two 3-pointers early in the third quarter and the Golden Bears led 34-25.

With 4:29 left in the game, UNE closed to 44-38 on Cavallaro’s first 3-pointer. But the Nor’easters’ next three possessions featured two missed 3-pointers and a turnovers.

“Big games, tight games, someone has to step up and knock down a shot,” Ewing said. “We didn’t really do that today.

“We didn’t knock anything down. We depended on the jump shot too much. When you’re not shooting well, you have to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. We didn’t do that well.”

Ewing will see how his team responds. He has a balanced squad with senior leadership – starters Nelson, Jocelyn Chaput and Ashley Coneys – to go with Cavallaro and Beyor (who had seven rebounds and two blocks). Chaput and Cavallaro both average 13 points a game.

“We were really up for this game,” Ewing said. “I don’t know if they put too much pressure on themselves. I tried to remind them that this game won’t make or break our season. It’s too early for that.”

NOTES: UNE next plays Gordon (10-6, 5-2) on Wednesday in Biddeford. The Nor’easters play Western New England again on Feb. 15 in Springfield, Massachusetts. … Western New England’s roster features another Mainer, along with Chadwick. Bela Cloutier, a 5-4 freshman guard from South Portland, has played five games but did not see action Saturday.

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