University of Maine senior Blanca Millan got off to a slow start, but finished with 17 points as the Black Bears cruised to a 64-47 win over Albany in the America East women’s basketball semifinals on Sunday in Orono. Jon Petrie photo/Courtesy of Maine athletics

Blanca Millán wasn’t connecting early, but the top-seeded University of Maine women’s basketball team showed it has plenty of ways to win.

The veteran Black Bears got key offensive contributions from several players while playing tough defense Sunday afternoon, and after a sluggish start rolled to a 67-47 America East semifinal victory against No. 4 Albany at Memorial Gym in Orono.

“That’s how we play. People who don’t know our team may think Blanca’s the only one who can score, but that’s not the case,” Maine Coach Amy Vachon said in a postgame Zoom conference with reporters.

Maine (17-2) will host No. 2 Stony Brook (14-5) in the conference championship game at 5 pm. Friday (ESPNU). Stony Brook dispatched UMass Lowell, 75-55, in its semifinal Sunday. The winner on Friday will earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Maine split a pair of five-point decisions at Stony Brook on Feb. 13-14, with the Black Bears winning the second game, 54-49. It’s the sixth straight year Maine has advanced to the conference championship game.

“That’s the expectation now at Maine is to play for and win championships,” Vachon said. “While we understand it’s not easy, that’s what we play for.”

Last year’s championship game, which would have been played at Stony Brook, was canceled as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country.

“Stony Brook is a great team. I think it will be really interesting to see who is the best team,” said Maine senior point guard Dor Saar. “They took the regular season (championship) last year and we took it this year.”

The pandemic is still impacting the game. Because of the state’s COVID-19 gathering limits and university safety protocols, fans and media are not allowed at Memorial Gym, aka The Pit. The ESPN broadcast team was located elsewhere in the field house.

But it didn’t negatively effect Maine’s ability to execute its defensive game plan or share the ball on offense.

Maine used quick double teams to frustrate Albany’s top interior players. Leading scorer Helene Haegerstrand and 6-foot-3 Lucia Decortes were held to two points each. Decortes had scored 14 and 12 in two regular-season losses to Maine.

Albany (7-11) got 15 points from Ellen Hahne but shot just 36.4 percent and committed 17 turnovers – 12 in the first half.

In contrast, Maine made 11 of its 19 3-point attempts (57.9 percent) and 27 of 55 shots overall (49.1 percent). The Black Bears had 22 assists.

“The start was rough for us; we didn’t hit a lot of shots, but we also didn’t take great shots,” Saar said. “The first huddle, we said, ‘Let’s not settle and play our defense and we’ll be OK.’ Because we stuck to the game plan on both ends, it put us in really great shape.”

Saar and sophomore Anne Simon each scored 13 points and made three 3-pointers. Maeve Carroll had 10 points to go with six rebounds and four assists. Senior guard Kelly Fogarty’s only bucket, a 3-pointer in the first quarter, gave Maine its first lead.

Maine’s relatively short bench chipped in. Freshman Alba Orois scored five points, including a 3-pointer early in the first quarter when Maine was still scuffling. Fanny Wadling had four points, four rebounds and five assists from the high post in 19 efficient minutes.

“Usually when you have three very good players, you’re going to have a good team. Maine has five, and more off the bench … and they share the ball,” said Albany Coach Colleen Mullen. “It’s really hard to defend five on the floor when they’re all a threat to score.”

After a scoreless first quarter and missing her first five shots, Millán showed why she’s the two-time America East Player of the Year. Despite wearing a large, cumbersome mouth guard because she had a tooth knocked out in a practice last week, Millán finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

The 6-foot-1 guard from Spain made two quick buckets early in the second quarter as Maine pushed a 14-10 lead after one quarter to 21-10.

Millán opened the second half with a 3-pointer, and Maine was off and running, shooting 10 of 16 from the floor without a turnover in the third quarter to build a 52-31 lead. The margin maxed at 30 points in the final quarter after back-to-back 3s from Millán and a forceful putback from fellow fifth-year senior Wadling.

UPDATE: This story was updated on March 8 at 1:25 p.m. to correct the score of Maine’s victory over Stony Brook during the regular season.

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