The University of Maine women’s basketball team is showing signs of coming together.
Despite having dealt with three injuries, two of them season-ending, and a protracted illness to another player, coach Cindy Blodgett’s Black Bears appear to be clicking.
The timing couldn’t be better, as UMaine opens its America East schedule tonight at 7 against Boston University at Alfond Arena in Orono.
“Really, all these games leading up to this, that was preparation for us,” said senior guard Amanda Tewksbury. “We’ve made so many strides in these past eight days and we’re looking forward to starting off with a home game. That’s always good for us, too. We’re pumped about this.”
UMaine (4-8) has improved its outlook with a strong showing during its recently completed eight-day road trip to Texas and Massachusetts. The Bears dropped their fifth straight game Dec. 29 in a 79-71 loss at Texas-San Antonio, but bounced back with an 87-84 win over Stephen F. Austin in the UTSA New Year’s Classic and finished the trip with a 65-49 victory Sunday at UMass.
“I think the way we’ve been playing lately, we’ve just become more confident with each other, especially with our defense,” said senior guard Kristin Baker of Bingham.
“It’s the confidence of people starting to realize what we can do if we show up every night to play,” she added.
UMaine, which has won two in a row for the first time since February 2007, derived key benefits from its recent trip. The chemistry on the court is benefiting from the Bears’ camaraderie off the court.
Blodgett said the dynamic actually works both ways.
“This past eight days that we’ve been able to — I want to say focus on basketball — but I think it’s focusing on one another and their relationships with each other,” said UMaine’s third-year coach. “I certainly think it’s helped them play better together, but it’s their maturity.”
The Bears’ seniors have been instrumental in helping the team develop a hardworking, unselfish mentality that is conducive to people playing well together.
Baker led the way on the Texas-UMass trip, moving back to point guard full time in the absence of freshman Katelyn Vanderhoff, who returned home to Pennsylvania to recuperate from lingering flu-like symptoms that have kept her out of action the better part of three weeks.
Baker played all 40 minutes in the UTSA tourney, averaging 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. She then provided 15 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals Sunday at UMass, logging 38 minutes.
“Kristen has played so efficiently the last three games, just played within herself,” Blodgett said. “I can tell she’s having fun.”
Tewksbury set the tone Sunday with a game-high 24 points and averaged 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals on the three-game swing.
Senior forward Katia Bratishko continues to provide solid play at power forward.
“It’s confidence, we’re relaxed,” Tewksbury said. “We’re excited to play together. We’re just enjoying each other, so I think that’s a big step for us.”
Among the underclassmen, sophomore forward Samantha Wheeler continues to come into her own. She averaged 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists on the recent trip.
Freshman center Corinne Wellington, sophomore guards Jasmine Rush and Brittany Williams and sophomore post player Samantha Baranowski all have made contributions of late.
“They’re evolving and you see them playing with more confidence, not just individually, but with each other,” Blodgett said. “There’s a calmness and sort of this easiness. And I think it starts with our seniors.”
UMaine continues league play Thursday at Vermont and Sunday at home against Maryland Baltimore County.