This week marks the halfway point of the America East season for the University of Maine’s basketball teams.
The Black Bear men (12-7) occupy first place in the standings with a 6-1 conference mark, while the women’s team brings up the rear in the league at 3-16 and 1-6, respectively.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team is riding a five-game winning streak going into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home game against New Hampshire.
The women’s team, coached by Cindy Blodgett, has lost four in a row and six of its last seven going into Wednesday’s home game, also against UNH.
Despite their divergent trajectories, both teams are trying to maintain a positive mentality that focuses on daily improvement.
“Every game’s a fresh start,” said junior guard Gerald McLemore. “It doesn’t matter (what happens in a given game). It’s like nothing ever happened. It’s all about looking forward and focusing on the task at hand.”
That approach has been effective for the UMaine men.
For the Black Bear women’s squad, it is motivation to work through continued struggles in the hope of putting together some victories during the second half of the season. To the players, that doesn’t seem an unreasonable expectation.
“We were so close (Sunday, a 73-70 loss to Stony Brook) and for us to get a win would have been huge,” said sophomore guard Katelyn Vanderhoff. “But I think our team realizes our potential and if we work hard every day, if we practice and compete with each other what we can be like in games, we have to bring that every game.”
Blodgett said a key part of getting better as a unit and extracting the Bears from their woes is to be able to deflect any negativism and maintain positive attitudes.
“We talk about people who are on the bandwagon and people who aren’t,” Blodgett said. “Let’s call a spade a spade. When you’re down, people want to kick you. When you’re not down and you’re winning, they want to jump on.”
Blodgett said losing must exact enough of an emotional toll on the players that it further motivates them.
“You feel the hurt from the loss, but what do you do with it,” Blodgett said. “Do you sit and complain or make all these excuses or do you say, I’m ready for a change, individually, and then collectively you come (together) as a team. That’s how you get it done.”
UMaine continues to adjust after ineffective play by some veterans and injuries to two players have thrust newcomers into prominent roles. The Bears are still without all-conference junior forward Samantha Wheeler, who has missed 14 straight games with postconcussion symptoms, and redshirt freshman guard Rachele Burns of Gorham is gone for the season with another knee injury.
On the active roster, first- and second-year players are accounting for 70 percent of UMaine’s scoring and 62 percent of its rebounding. However, that group also is responsible for 67 percent of the team’s turnovers, of which the Bears average 20.9 per game.
Recently having added freshman post players Ali Nalivaika and Jaymie Druding to the regular rotation, UMaine continues to search for consistency in all phases of the game.
“So far this season we’ve brought it every once in awhile,” Vanderhoff said of the Bears’ intensity and execution. “But we’re realizing that in order for us to be successful, we’re going to have to bring it every game, every practice, every time we step out on that court.”
In the wake of the Stony Brook loss, Blodgett reminded the players about the potential for making big strides as UMaine heads into the second half of the America East schedule.
“I just tried to remind them that we’re in control of what we want to do,” Blodgett said. “We’ve got plenty of games left to move ourselves up in the conference. It’s critical we start as a team, we make that switch, and we do it now, because these are games that we should win, in my estimation.”
Wheeler’s status unchanged
Wheeler continues to sit out as she recovers from a blow to the back of the head suffered during a Nov. 29 practice.
She has been unable to practice or work out with the team, but has done some occasional exercise on a stationary bike.
With only nine regular-season games and at least one tourney game left, no decision has been made about whether Wheeler might return, or possibly be redshirted.
“Really, it’s one of those things where you just want her to be healthy so that we’re put in the position (to say) either yes, she’s healthy, she’s a go, or no. At this point, there’s no decision to be made,” Blodgett said.
Wheeler, a 6-foot guard/forward from Derry, N.H., was averaging a team-leading 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds and was shooting 81 percent from the foul line when she was hurt five games into the season.
“Do I think some of these close losses, do I feel like Sam would have tipped the scales? Without question,” added Blodgett, who pointed out how the loss of Wheeler and Burns has significantly affected the Bears’ depth.
McLemore hits 1,000 mark
UMaine’s McLemore exhibited his usual poise when commenting on his reaching 1,000 career points during the Jan. 20 game at Vermont.
The sharpshooting guard from San Diego became the 29th Black Bear to attain the milestone with his 14-point effort in Burlington.
“It’s obviously a humbling experience, feels great,” McLemore said Sunday. “I never thought I would be able to reach that in my college career.”
McLemore ranks second on UMaine’s career list behind Kevin Reed with 219 3-point field goals and 586 attempts (.374). His 1,018 points place him 26th among the program’s all-time scorers.
Reed went 311-for-834 (.373) from long distance from 2002-07.