UMaine women’s basketball team’s formula for success looked familiar

University of Maine players Tanesha Sutton (from left), Fanny Wadling, Blanca Millan, and Parise Rossignol celebrate in the last minute of the America East championship game against Hartford at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Friday night.   Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

When coaching high school basketball, I implemented a four-part plan for my teams and if they successfully followed it, then we had an excellent chance of winning the game even if we had a poor shooting night from the floor.

Coincidentally, the University of Maine women’s basketball team followed the plan while winning the America East Tourney.

A high school game is 32 minutes and I would tell our players we would be successful if we shot 70 percent from the line, committed no more than six fouls per half, had less than 12 turnovers and limited opponents to under 45 points.

While watching the Maine women’s games, which are 40 minutes, I adjusted my plan to shooting 75 percent from the line, committing no more than four fouls per quarter, not allowing more than 16 turnovers a game and holding opponents to under 55 points.

I liked to follow a four-part plan when I coached because it increased scoring opportunities and you win or lose games at the line. We wanted to keep opponents off the line so they couldn’t score with the clock stopped,

Following this plan was easier in the regular season because there weren’t any win-or-go-home scenarios as in a single elimination tournament.

In Maine’s first two conference tournament games there was the pressure of being the No. 1 seed and the defending champions with four starters and the sixth player returning. The Black Bears were also the preseason favorite to win the regular season title, which they did.

They entered the America East tourney with a 15-1 record and were favored to win the title for a return to the NCAA Tourney.

This is the pressure of tournament basketball and many times the ball seems to get bigger and rim seems to get smaller for the favorites.

In the first two tourney games, Maine struggled from the floor, shooting 35.9 percent in a 69-36 win over New Hampshire and 5 of 20 for 3-pointers (25 percent). In its 66-51 semifinal win over Albany, Maine shot 30.5 percent from the floor and 6 of 21 for 3-pointers (28.6 percent).

Maine survived those two poor shooting nights from the floor by impressive performances from the foul line, shooting 18 of 21 (85.7 percent) against UNH and 24 of 26 (92.3 percent) against Albany, making its first 22 in a row from the line.

The Black Bears committed just four turnovers vs. UNH and 11 against Albany.

Maine committed 12 fouls, resulting in 12 attempts for UNH and 15 fouls for 11 attempts against Albany while limiting both teams to under 55 points.

So, in those two tough shooting games, Maine did all four things from my old high school plan needed to win even when shooting poorly from the field.

In the championship game, Maine shot well against Hartford, 42.4 percent from the floor, 12 of 33 on 3-pointers (36.4 percent) along with 6 of 6 from the line.

The Black Bears committed 12 turnovers and had 13 fouls, limiting Hartford to nine attempts while holding the Hawks to under 55 points.

In that final, Maine coach Amy Vachon also made some excellent half-time adjustments, especially on defense and held Hartford to 12 third-quarter points, while scoring 19 for a 51-38 third-quarter lead, finishing with a 17-10 scoring advantage in the fourth for the 68-48 win.

That halftime adjustment followed a trend as Maine’s three opponents averaged 19 points in the second half after averaging 29 points in the first half.

For the three games, Maine outscored its opponents 67-45 while hitting an outstanding 90.6 percent of its free throws.

It seems as though a four-part plan can also be successful on the college level.

Best of luck to the Black Bears and coach Vachon in the NCAA Tourney.