WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - Jill McDonald (Middlebury, Vt.) and Chrissy Hall (Northbridge, Mass.) led five Wildcat double-digit scorers with 14 points apiece, as the ninth-seeded University of New Hampshire women's basketball team defeated the eighth-seeded University of Maine, 65-50, in the first round of the America East Women's Basketball Championships at Chase Arena on Thursday night.
With the win the Wildcats improve to 9-21 overall and 3-13 in America East play, while the Black Bears drop to 8-21 overall and 4-12 in conference action. For UNH, the win comes as its first against Maine in the tournament and its second all-time in the first round.
Lauren Wells (West Chester, Pa.) dropped in 13 points and tallied three boards on the night. Denise Beliveau (Framingham, Mass.) finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Candace Williams (Norfolk, Mass.) rounded out UNH's double digit scorers, notching 10 points and six rebounds.
Aside from McDonald's impressive point total, she also notched five blocks, marking the fourth time this season has reached that plateau. The junior now owns New Hampshire's single-season block record with 58 swats in her career. Denise Higgins previously held the mark with 53 blocks during the 1983-84 campaign.
New Hampshire kicked off the contest on a 6-0 run as Beliveau knocked down a jumper and McDonald finished off the stretch with a pair of free throws at 15:44.
Samantha Wheeler snapped the scoreless streak for the Black Bears when she sank the second of two free throw attempts, setting the score at 6-1 in favor of the ‘Cats with 14:17 remaining in the first frame.
After 2:03 of scoreless play, Wells nailed a deep 3-pointer and Beliveau dropped in a layup on back-to-back possessions, giving the Wildcats an 11-1 advantage at 11:57.
Maine notched its first field goals of the contest when Samantha Baranowski knocked down jumpers on consecutive possessions and then followed up with a layup by Samantha Wheeler, cutting the score to 11-7 with 10:40 remaining in the first stanza.
New Hampshire responded to Maine's offensive spurt with a pair of layups by McDonald and Beliveau sparking an 11-3 run, pushing its lead to eight, with the score 18-10 in favor of the ‘Cats at 7:56.
After trading baskets with one another for the next 3:14, Hall ignited the ‘Cats with a jumper at 3:13, propelling UNH to an 11-4 run to close out at the half, giving New Hampshire the 32-24 advantage at the intermission.
The Wildcats kept up their hot pace heading into the second frame, posting a 9-0 run, capped off with a Beliveau 3-pointer at 17:04, giving UNH its highest lead to that point with score 41-24.
The Black Bears wouldn't go down easily, as they charged right back with a 20-13 run that spanned over 9:51, slicing New Hampshire's lead down to nine with 7:53 remaining.
However, McDonald helped the Wildcats get back on track when she laced a jumper to set off a 9-4 scoring stretch, capped off with a Wells jumper, pushing the score to 59-45 at 2:05, securing the win for UNH.
Tanna Ross led Maine with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists. Wheeler chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds on the night.
The ninth-seeded Wildcats return to action on Friday, March 5 (6 p.m.) when they take on top-seeded Hartford in the Quarterfinal Round of America East Women's Basketball Championships at Chase Arena.