The University of Maine women’s basketball program can’t be accused over the years of stacking its annual Thanksgiving tournament in its favor by inviting teams upon which to prey.
Sure, the Black Bears benefit from playing the Dead River Co. Classic on their home court inside chilly Alfond Arena, which often gets visiting teams’ attention.
Beyond that, UMaine has traditionally been willing to invite high-caliber competition to Orono in the hope of providing all involved with a quality basketball experience.
This marks the 17th season for UMaine’s holiday extravaganza, which begins today with a pair of first-round contests.
Penn State and Buffalo meet at 4 p.m., while UMaine takes on Holy Cross in the 6 p.m. game.
There should be plenty of good seats available with adult tickets ranging from $10 for reserved seats to $8 for general admission. However, youngsters ages 16 and under get into the games for only $2. That deal is in effect all season.
Saturday’s action will include a consolation game at noon, with the title contest to follow at approximately 2 p.m.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears will try to become only the fourth UMaine team to win its own tournament. UMaine is 17-15 all-time, including 12 championship-game appearances.
This year’s field may not be quite as impressive, on paper, as many in past years. Even so, the winner will have to play two strong games to take home the championship plaque.
The headliner is Penn State of the Big Ten Conference, which is coming off an 11-18 season during which it lost in the first round of the conference tournament. However, the Lady Lions (3-1 this season) have been perennially strong.
Penn State is a combined 25-1 all-time against teams from conferences involved in the Dead River Co. Classic. That includes 15-0 against the Patriot League, 5-0 against the Mid-American Conference and 5-1 taking on America East squads.
Holy Cross, UMaine’s first-round opponent, has been a perennial power in the Patriot League. However, the Crusaders went 13-17 a year ago and bowed out of the league tournament in the quarterfinals.
Buffalo was 8-24 last season, but did reach the MAC semifinals.
The Black Bears, meanwhile, have been trying to rebuild since their last postseason appearance (WNIT) in 2005. If UMaine can put it all together, a victory in its own tournament could provide tremendous confidence and a boost of momentum for the squad.
The Dead River Co. Classic will be a homecoming of sorts for former UMaine women’s coach Ann McInerney, who directed the Bears from 2005-07. She is in her second season at Holy Cross under 25th-year Crusaders boss Bill Gibbons and this year is serving as the associate head coach.
McInerney’s UMaine teams compiled a 23-34 record.