DURHAM, N.H. – UNH pulled off their upset of the season with a 58-57 win over the 5-0 UMaine Black Bears before falling 76-56 in the second game of the two-game series. The Wildcats came in as heavy underdogs but managed to squeeze out a win in the closing seconds thanks to a pair of clutch free throws from senior guard Amanda Torres. The win snapped UNH’s nine game losing streak versus the Black Bears.
The Border Battle lived up to its competitive reputation from start to finish. UMaine came into the game as the winners of 15 in a row and 5-0 on the young season. The Black Bears had shown some cracks in their last game – a narrow 52-49 win over Hartford. UNH pushed Maine with a physical and aggressive game plan. This win was the ‘Cats second win on the season.
As a part of the Wildcats’ game plan, UMaine was forced to take outside shots against a stout UNH defense. The Black Bears were held to just 16 points in the paint and managed six points from the free-throw line on eight attempts.
On the other end of the floor, it was tenacity and physicality that kept the Wildcats in the game. UNH had 16 offensive rebounds, which were converted into 15 second chance points. They had 20 points in the paint and 21 points from the stripe on 29 attempts.
Torres continued her impressive senior season with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Torres has been tasked with leading a young Wildcat team, and against a top-level opponent she delivered in the clutch.
After a back-and-forth final quarter, UNH found themselves down one with 30.8 seconds to play. UMaine’s Blanca Milan, whom coach Hogan called the best player in the conference, hoisted up a three that came up short. Torres grabbed the rebound and was tripped. With the ‘Cats in the bonus and down one, Torres headed to the free throw line. Torres sunk both shots and left UNH up 58-57 with 8.1 seconds to go.
Coach Hogan said she had no doubt that Torres was up to the task.
“For me that’s who you want to go to the line to ice the game… There’s nobody better that we want on the line to get us the lead.”
Torres was focused before the game-winning shots, clearing out her mind when she got to the stripe.
“I was not thinking about anything else and just shooting them like any other free throws,” Torres explained.
It was UNH’s defense that kept them in the game, and it was defense that clinched the upset victory in the final seconds. After UMaine inbounded to Milan, sophomore guard Héléna Delaruelle picked the 2019 America East player of the year’s pocket and dove on the loose ball. A jump ball was called, and possession stayed with the Black Bears. On the ensuing inbound with 1.3 seconds remaining, first-year center Paige Cote got her hand on the ball and recovered it to run out the clock.
Coach Hogan was thrilled with her team’s play down the stretch. She noted that many young teams might fold under the pressure of a tight game against such a high-level opponent. Hogan emphasized that it was young players who stepped up in UMaine’s final possessions.
“They were locked in, they wanted it. They acted like they’ve been there before even though they haven’t,” said Hogan.
It was a different story the next day as the Black Bears regained their form. UMaine was sharper than the day prior and took a comfortable 20-10 lead in the first quarter which they never relinquished. UNH played well but the Wildcats offense couldn’t keep pace with a the Black Bears.
UMaine shot 50.9% from the field and an outstanding 43.3% from three. Leading the way for the Black Bears was senior guard Kelly Fogarty who tied the America East record for threes in a game with 10.
Coach Hogan was honest about the team’s performance in the second leg of a back-to-back series.
“They made shots and down the stretch we had too many doubts,” explained Hogan. “And today we didn’t put the ball in the basket at crucial times.”
The team’s youth showed today especially due to the back-to-back schedule but the there was still plenty of positives to look at as well.
“We did look gassed at times I will say with these back-to-back games… But I do think still even today, the fight is there and there are some good takeaways that we’re going to continue to learn and grow from,” Hogan noted.
Hogan said Fogarty’s shooting was something that’s hard to control. The UNH game plan was to take Milan and senior point guard Dor Saar out of the game and force another UMaine player to step up – which Fogarty did.
The Wildcats will travel to UMBC to take on the Retrievers in a two-game series beginning Jan. 10. Coach Hogan wants the team to take the positives form the UMaine series and translate it to success on the court.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Bronner