Newcomers are having a considerable impact this season on the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
That dynamic was in evidence again Sunday afternoon during the Black Bears’ 60-57 America East victory over Maryland Baltimore County at Alfond Arena in Orono.
Freshman Ali Nalivaika was instrumental in helping coach Cindy Blodgett’s team (3-12, 1-2 AE) get its first conference win.
Nalivaika established career highs with 11 points and five blocked shots and tied a career best with seven rebounds against the Retrievers.
“What I like about her, she’s consistent,” Blodgett said of the Worcester, Mass., native. “When she misses a shot, she doesn’t drop her head.”
The 6-4 center was a force at both ends during Sunday’s victory, when she logged a season-high 35 minutes.
She was an intimidator defensively in the paint, where UMBC players either had trouble shooting over her or didn’t attempt to do so. Nalivaika, who built a reputation as a shot-blocker at St. Peter Marian High School, said it’s not as easy at the Division I level.
“Everyone’s so much stronger, but I just have to keep position and do what I like to do,” Nalivaika said. “And from defense, offense comes, that’s what coach always says, so that’s why I like to pride myself in defense.”
What Nalivaika might lack in lateral quickness, she tries to make up for with instincts and timing. Blodgett was pleased with her defense against UMBC.
“I think what’s impressive with her, she played 35 minutes and didn’t get a foul,” said Blodgett, who has stressed the need for Nalivaika to keep her hands up on defense.
“(We tell her) most players are not going to shoot over 6-4 with hands extended, so make a shot difficult or block the shot. I thought her performance was great.”
Nalivaika has only recently begun to make an impact. Over the last four games, she has averaged 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 20.3 minutes per contest.
She has shot 32 percent from the floor (8-for-25) and 75 percent from the foul line (3-for-4) and has committed only two turnovers during the same span.
Black Bears gaining confidence
The UMaine women received a much-needed boost of confidence from Sunday’s victory in Orono.
The Bears, who had been blown out in the second half of their first two America East games, are 2-2 in their last four contests.
The players, who demonstrated plenty of emotion as the game ended, seemed minutes later to take the win very much in stride.
“Yeah, we got confidence from winning, but we’ve got to carry that over to the next practice, especially the one before the (next) game,” said freshman guard Ashleigh Roberts, who scored 14 points to hit double figures for the seventh consecutive game and was named the America East Rookie of the Week for the third time this season.
Blodgett quickly pointed to her team’s balance and unselfishness as important signs of progress.
“I think it was a great team win,” she said. “We got that (scoring and rebounding production) with five players in double figures, five kids with four rebounds or more and 16 assists. Those are all stats that you look at that put you in a position to be successful.”
Having all UMaine’s players working together unselfishly is another important component, according to senior co-captain Tanna Ross of Newburgh, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to win Sunday’s game.
“We just trust in our teammates. We try to do that every game. (Sunday) just worked out quite well for us.”
UMaine is preparing for Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. home game against the University at Albany (9-6, 2-0 AE).
Hyland chooses Vermont
Keegan Hyland of South Portland, who left Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., last month after one semester, has transferred to the University of Vermont, according to published reports.
Hyland, a 6-3 shooting guard, chose UVM after having first visited UMaine and then the Catamounts’ Burlington campus for games last week.
In an interview with the Burlington Free Press, he pointed to the recent success of the Vermont program (11-4 this season), the atmosphere in Burlington and the opportunity to contribute immediately as factors that affected his decision.
Under NCAA rules, he will be eligible to begin playing at the end of the first semester next December and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Hyland had originally committed to Vermont while at South Portland High, but later decided to attend prep school. However, a scholarship offer from Gonzaga convinced him to change his mind and sign at National Letter of Intent last spring.
He did not appear in any games this season for the Zags after suffering a minor knee injury and a concussion, which limited his practice participation.
Hyland cited the long distance from home as a key factor in his decision to transfer.
He also missed most of his senior season at South Portland with a stress fracture in his pelvic bone.