Cindy Blodgett’s Christmas wish list probably has a prolific scorer written at the top.
Since Santa Claus won’t be able to come through with such a request, the University of Maine women’s basketball team must continue to work hard with the talent it has as the Black Bears continue to prepare for America East play.
UMaine (2-6) has dropped two games in a row at Delaware and Hofstra, but Blodgett is seeing small gains across the board.
“I think people are starting to understand their roles a bit better,” she said.
The Bears, who are preparing for Sunday’s game at Harvard, are developing more of an aggressive approach.
“We can’t wait for teams to come to us,” Blodgett said. “We have to be the aggressor, from the get-go, on both ends.”
Much of UMaine’s improvement this season has been on defense. The Bears rank in the top four in four key America East statistical categories.
UMaine is No. 1 in field-goal percentage defense at .379 and also leads conference teams in defending the 3-point field goal at .262. The Bears rank fourth in scoring defense (63.5 points per game) and fourth in rebounding margin (minus-4.4).
“We don’t have the scorers to pretend that we’re going to outscore teams,” Blodgett said. “That’s not what we do so, defensively, we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go, certainly for conference play.”
The Bears finished last season ranked seventh in 3-point FG percentage defense, eighth in scoring defense (67.4 ppg) and ninth in FG percentage defense (.423), so the growth has been measurable.
UMaine’s base defense has been the 1-2-2 matchup zone, but the team continues to expand its repertoire, playing a 2-3 zone, man-to-man and also implementing some presses.
“I think the team is feeling more and more comfortable not only with the matchup but even as we switch defenses more,” Blodgett said. “We can move people to different places to see where they’re most effective.”
The thing that continues to plague this UMaine squad is turnovers. The Bears’ 24.9 turnovers per game rank last in America East as does their minus-6.7 turnover margin.
More than a quarter of their turnovers have been committed by first-year starter Kristin Baker. She is playing 34.6 minutes per game while being backed up by freshmen Jasmine Rush and Brittany Williams.
“It is decision-making, but it’s also maturity,” Blodgett said of the Bears’ propensity for turnovers. “At some point, players have to understand that certain passes can’t be made.”
Turnovers also take a toll on the players’ psyche during the course of a game.
“When you’re not turning the ball over, your team goes through less highs and lows from an emotional standpoint,” Blodgett said, pointing to Tuesday’s 60-56 loss at Hofstra as an example. In that game, Baker had only three turnovers in 33 minutes.
“I think the team really got a chance to see that when you are taking care of the ball, how it’s really to your advantage.”
Freshman center Samantha Baranowski continues to lead the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game and is shooting 51 percent from the floor.
Blodgett is pleased with the recent play of junior forward Brittany Boser, whose intensity and desire was especially obvious in the Hofstra game. And it wasn’t a matter of her scoring.
Boser finished with six points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
“She was the first one for rebounds, she was boxing out consistently,” Blodgett said. “She dove for a couple loose balls. She played with a greater sense of urgency, which was really nice to see and something that we need.”
The Bears return home Dec. 21 for a 3:30 p.m. game against Fairfield. It’s the second half of a doubleheader at Alfond Arena in Orono as the UMaine men take on Harvard at 1 p.m.