The University of Maine women’s basketball team continues to work toward consistency and better on-court chemistry as it prepares for two games in Pennsylvania later this week.
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears face the University of Pennsylvania of the Ivy League on Friday night, then take on Penn State of the Big East Conference on Sunday.
UMaine (1-6) is coming off Saturday’s 79-69 loss at Holy Cross. During that game, UMaine went with a significantly different lineup than the one that began the season.
Blodgett started junior Brittany Williams, sophomore Katelyn Vanderhoff and redshirt freshman Amber Smith at guard, while freshmen Jaymie Druding and Greer Babbe got the nod at the forward spots. It was the first career start for the freshmen.
Williams and Vanderhoff have both started all seven games, while Smith has earned five starts.
UMaine’s nine-player rotation also included senior swing player Tanna Ross of Newburgh, freshman guard Ashleigh Roberts, sophomore forward Corinne Wellington and redshirt freshman guard Rachele Burns of Gorham.
“We have different people in the lineup now,” Blodgett said after the Bears returned from Worcester, Mass.
For the second straight game, the Bears were without junior Samantha Wheeler. She has been sidelined after being hit in the head during practice on Nov. 29.
Junior forward Samantha Baranowski, who started five of the first six games, did not play against Holy Cross. She is averaging 1.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game.
Blodgett said the influx of newcomers and players coming off injuries has given her and the staff the opportunity to mix and match personnel recently. The players’ fortitude during a lopsided loss at Kansas and the loss at Holy Cross have helped sort some things out.
“We were able to see the players on our team who were going to fight and who were really going to compete,” Blodgett said. “Our coaching staff is able to start looking at our team now and see where we can tighten up the lineup. Players are starting to see where their roles are going to be.”
Blodgett is encouraged by the efforts of the players, including those contributing for the first time this season. She senses the group is starting to figure things out.
While the Bears lost to the Crusaders on Saturday, there were positive signs.
“Overall, I thought we competed and I think for the first time our team is starting to understand that we’re turning the corner — and I really believe that,” Blodgett said.
UMaine’s fourth-year coach clearly is liking what she has seen from the youngsters, including America East Rookie of the Week Roberts, a 5-foot-9 guard from Wilmington, Del.
“She continues to get better,” Blodgett said. “She had some really nice offensive plays in the (Holy Cross) game and she had six assists at Kansas.”
Roberts is averaging 6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 19 minutes per contest.
Burns also has continued to increase her contributions in the guard mix.
Up front, Druding and Babbe are starting to establish themselves as players who aren’t afraid to mix it up a bit.
“Jaymie and Greer are willing to be physical,” Blodgett said. “They bump cutters, they go after rebounds, they make the extra pass. They’re doing some positive things right now.”
Blodgett said this group of players is demonstrating some of the intangible qualities that should produce results on the court.
“In the end, you’re going to win games if you’ve got competitive kids and that’s what we’ve gotten to now,” Blodgett said. “We know who’s going to flat-out compete.”
Not in Kansas any more
Some UMaine fans may have wondered why UMaine chose to take on a high-powered Kansas squad this season.
It wasn’t part of the original plan.
Blodgett explained UMaine was forced to find an opponent late after an unexpected scheduling change.
“It was supposed to be the Providence game, but Providence dropped us early in August, so that’s how we picked up Kansas late in the season,” she explained.
The Jayhawks routed the Bears 126-63, making it the most lopsided loss in program history and the most points ever allowed by a UMaine women’s team.
“Those are games that sometimes are difficult and somewhat painful to experience,” said Blodgett, who explained her team initially didn’t react well when confronted by a vastly superior opponent.
“You prepare for it and then you get out on the court and it kind of freezes players sometimes,” she added.
Nonetheless, Blodgett saw some good signs as the players continued to play hard in spite of the uphill struggle.
UMaine also received in excess of $20,000 to play the game.