ORONO — Ted Woodward spent Monday’s practice session in Memorial Gym preaching a central message to his team.
“It’s about nothing else other than winning,” said the University of Maine men’s basketball coach.
Whether he was stressing the importance of setting a good screen, focusing on the need for the ball to get into the paint or rebuking his players for committing turnovers, all the effort is geared toward winning.
During Monday’s practice, there was no mistaking the Black Bears’ motivation and desire to win consistently during the 2010-11 season.
Virtually every drill featured a high level of energy and a competitive element. The players were divided into “Blue” and “White” squads and went head to head in a variety of half-court and full-court scenarios that had specific purposes.
After going through their initial warmup drills, the Bears lined up along the baseline and received a recap of some key shortcomings from Sunday’s Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage.
Players who committed turnovers were penalized by running “suicides,” a series of up-and-back sprints broken into varied length segments. More turnovers meant more running.
“Don’t turn the ball over. Value the ball,” Woodward barked.
That scenario replayed itself each time a turnover was committed during 3-on-3, 4-on-4 or full-squad scrimmaging.
“We always stress winning, whether during the offseason or in practice,” said senior Sean McNally of Gardiner. “That’s where running comes in for the loser.
“It’s just competing every day. That’s what’s going to take us to the next level, hard work on the floor.”
The Bears also played mini games, most to five points. Regardless of the emphasis of the drills, the winners got the satisfaction of a job well done while the losing side ran sprints.
At one point, the White squad racked up a series of six straight “victories.” The Blue squad, which included McNally, was forced to run.
“That’s how we practice day in and day out,” McNally said. “Coach really stresses competitiveness and we try to focus on game situations.”
The dynamic seemed to motivate both sides to play harder.
Junior Gerald McLemore was out front on most of the sprints and suicides.
“It teaches you to want to win everything,” McLemore said. “Even though we’re teammates and we like each other, when we get between the lines, we go as hard as we can.”
Judging from the rigors of the workout, the Bears should be in excellent shape by the time their Nov. 12 season opener at Utah Valley State rolls around.
Learning to withstand the running, banging and fatigue is expected to help prepare UMaine in its quest for an America East championship.
“During practice, a lot of it is mental,” McLemore said. “A lot of people lose their focus. You just come out, play as hard as you can.”
The Bears clearly aren’t averse to doing plenty of hard work on the court. And Woodward didn’t want to hear even the most muffled grumbling when things occasionally got difficult.
“We have to make sure we do this as one. We have to play as one,” he said.
UMaine football has bye week
The UMaine football team, which eked out a 28-23 Colonial Athletic Association victory Saturday at Rhode Island, is off this week.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Bears (3-5, 2-3 CAA) showed tremendous resolve in thwarting the Rams’ last-minute threat and holding on to win.
“I’m real proud of us being able to step up and work for 60 minutes to get a win,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine did so without the services of several key players who were nursing injuries. That group included starting tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston and wideout Tyrell Jones, along with starting cornerback Dom Cusano and defensive tackle Kevin Phanor.
Now, the Bears need some time to recuperate.
“I don’t think the timing for us could be any better because of our status,” Cosgrove said during Monday’s CAA coaches teleconference.
“Right now we need some down time and getting away from the contact things of this game to get some guys back on the roster and get them ready to play in two weeks,” he added.
UMaine hopes to be healthier heading into their Nov. 6 game at Massachusetts.
How bad were the injuries, you ask? When Ryan McCrossan got injured on the second-half kickoff Saturday, UMaine was forced to utilize its fourth-string long snapper, Spencer Wood.
“(When you) go through a half with not your second- and third-(string) because you left them behind but your fourth guy and you’ve got to punt four times and extra points, that’s as nerve-wracking an experience in coaching in a game like that that you can go through,” Cosgrove offered.
The only glitch came on UMaine’s final punt of the fourth quarter, but punter Jordan Waxman slid to his right, snared the snap, and got the kick off.
“He just saved our butt by just getting the ball off,” Cosgrove said.
UM women reach out to elderly
Members of the UMaine women’s basketball team visited the Phillips-Strickland House in Bangor on Monday to spend some time with the residents.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s players also served lunch to the elderly residents at the facility, which was created in 1975 to ensure the aging population of eastern Maine had a quality residence with essential services.