ORONO – The University of Maine women’s basketball team – with one notable upset against Alabama as the exception – has been the classic almost-achiever for four years.
Ever since Cindy Ballgame brought her game, attitude, and Pied Piper charm to Orono, Mainers have been waiting for The Win.
Against Alabama, during Blodgett’s freshman year, fans got The Win, Volume I, with the promise of many more epic upsets.
They never came.
Matchups with Connecticut, North Carolina, Western Kentucky, and LSU came and went, and the Black Bears often flirted with glory.
Each time, they ended up back in Orono, shoveling snow.
Not any more.
In the words of Western Kentucky’s coach, Steve Small, you’ve got to play the big dogs to get noticed in the hoop world.
And after Thursday’s 76-64 win, Small told it like it was.
“They just beat a big dog,” he said.
Small knows big dogs. His Lady Toppers knocked off then-No. 4 Louisiana Tech on Jan. 25. Certifiable big dog. His own squad was No. 15. Not any more. Now they’re whimpering.
The reasons for the win were many. Some big (another 32-point Cindy Blodgett show under the big top that is Alfond Arena), and some small (Andrea Clark put in a yeoman 15-minute effort for the Bears in a rare starting role, battling the Lady Toppers tough underneath).
Coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie said that comparing Maine’s win over Alabama to this one was unfair: “Alabama didn’t even respect us coming in, and we sort of ambushed them,” she recalled. “This is a team that understood what we could do because of last year.”
Ahh. Last year.
That was just one in the line of almost-wins for the almost-big-time Bears. It finished as a seven-point loss to Western Kentucky.
But Palombo said comparing the UMaine fortunes against tough foes is a little unfair.
“I don’t think you can look at some of the bigger games and clump them all together,” she said. “They have some different characteristics.”
But this game had the one characteristic that all previous attempts had Real, killer-instinct toughness, emanating from the Bears.
It’s one thing to maul an outmanned America East foe.
It’s something else to answer a 16-4 run by the nation’s 15th-best squad.
Then to watch that team reel you in again, trimming the lead to only two.
To take a deep breath. Shrug off the fact that Blodgett hasn’t scored a hoop for 15 minutes.
To pull out the stiletto.
To finish off the prey.
That’s what the Bears did, scoring seven straight points over a 1:06 span late in the game.
Blodgett, for one, wasn’t surprised at all. She has done a lot of surprising in her day, but rarely does her own good fortune seem to be anything but scripted.
“I don’t know about HUGE upset,” Blodgett said, correcting a reporter’s semantics in the postgame press conference.
“I don’t think we felt like as big an underdog as all of you [thought we were],” she said.
For four years, Mainers had waited to hear those words again.
Finally, Blodgett got a chance to say them.