The Fairfield women’s basketball team defeated the Maine Black Bears in the Women’s Basketball Invitational quarterfinal game at a score of 63-50 on Saturday afternoon.

Senior Katie Cizynski posted her 14th double-double of the season with 26 points and 12 rebounds as the sixth-seeded Stags beat the seventh-seed University of Maine. The Stags will face the winner of Monday’s No. 1 Eastern Michigan/No. 4 UIC contest in the semifinals that will be held March 26 or March 27. It is the first time since 2012 in which a MAAC team has advanced to the WBI semifinals.

“Anytime it’s March and you’re still playing, it’s a great thing,” said Fairfield Head Coach Joe Frager. “I think it’s our goal to try to be the last team from the MAAC standing. We want to play two more games and that’s the goal.”

Fairfield got off to a roaring start in this contest against Maine and never looked back as they led the entire game. They played excellent offense while also showing resilient defense. The Stags found themselves leading 19-7 just 10 minutes into the game. This was the result of a good scoring start that led to the Stags shooting a fantastic 75 percent from the field as well as the free throw line in the first half.

“It definitely helped to build a lead and build confidence in the first half,” said Cizynski. “We knew we had to have a good first 10 minutes.”

Aside from scoring the basketball, Fairfield also showed resilience by committing turnovers and playing terrific first-half defense. Maine had a total of 15 turnovers throughout the game, most of them coming in the first half. Also, the Black Bears shot just 22.2 percent from the field and went 0-9 on three-point attempts.

“We were very aggressive and assertive in the first half,” said Frager. “The defense triggered the offense and we shot the ball really well. It was important to get off to a fast start because Maine is a very talented team with a lot of three-point shooters and a couple of tough matchups.”

During one part of the first half, the Black Bears were without a field goal for about seven minutes and would not score until the 6:41 mark. At the end of the half, the Stags established themselves a solid 37-13 lead and Cizynski led the team in scoring for the half with 16 points. It was the fewest first half points scored by an opponent since Feb. 17, 2012, when Niagara scored just 13.

However, the Maine Black Bears turned the tables on Fairfield as soon as the second half began. The Black Bears were able to force a large number of Stag turnovers in the early minutes of the period, making Frager explore his bench for players to swap with guards Felicia DaCruz ’15 and Kristin Schatzlein ’16. The two of them had a combined eight turnovers throughout the game.

“Any team that’s down by 20-something at half is going to come out with a lot of energy in the second half knowing they have a whole other half of basketball to play,” said Alexys Vazquez ’14. “Maine came out really aggressive and overplayed everything to make us run for the ball.”

The Black Bears outscored the Stags 20-9 in the first 11 minutes of the half behind strong defense and ball pressure to spur the offense. In the second half, Maine shot 43.8 percent from the field, a 20-plus increase from their percentage in the first half. Also, Maine was 7-7 from the free-throw line and had five more attempts at the line than in the first half.

Their dominant defensive play led the Stags to shoot just 30 percent from the field in the second half and made it difficult for Cizynski to score the ball. She did not have a second-half field goal until there were about nine minutes left in the game.

“We had a hard time getting Katie the ball because of how much pressure they were placing on our guards. We weren’t getting the ball where we wanted to, in terms of being able to enter the ball into the post,” said Frager. “They were forcing us to get the ball much further out then we would have wanted to.”

After the 10-minute mark in the second half, Fairfield began to strike again once the deficit was cut to 46-35. At this point, the Stags went on a nice 7-2 run to bring the lead back to 16 points. Though Maine pulled back within 11 points a few times, it was not enough to get them back into the game.

Fairfield went to the free-throw line often during the closing minutes of the game and capitalized by hitting 12-13 shots from the stripe. Also, Cizynski and Brittany Obi-Tabot ’14 started to percolate in the paint and gave the Stags some insurance points. They rode these offensive factors in the last ten minutes to preserve the 63-50 victory over the Maine Black Bears to prolong the women’s basketball season at Fairfield. Their semifinal opponent in the WBI will be determined on Monday.

“No MAAC team has ever won a postseason tournament, so it’d be really cool if we could be the first,” said Cizynski.

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