The stretch run has begun in the America East basketball season and both University of Maine teams are trying to find the right chemistry heading into the conference tournament.
Both squads have encountered difficulties of late.
The Black Bear men have allowed recent opponents to shoot the lights out from beyond the 3-point arc, which has been the most glaring factor in their four-game losing streak.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team (14-11) heads into Wednesday’s home game against league-leading Vermont in third place in America East at 8-5. With the No. 1 tournament seed out of reach, the Bears must get back to playing the way they did during their seven-game winning streak.
“We have a lot of different parts on this basketball team and when all of our parts are clicking, that has a chance to allow us to reach our potential,” Woodward said.
UMaine’s glaring weakness recently has been defending the 3-point shot. Its last five opponents have shot a combined 53-for-117 (45 percent) from outside the arc, an average of more than 10 3-pointers per game.
There were four road contests in the stretch, including Saturday’s 71-69 overtime loss at Stony Brook.
“We still have to do a better job guarding the 3-pointer. I think that’s obviously a huge issue for us right now,” Woodward said.
In league play, America East teams are averaging fewer than eight 3-pointers per game, which means the effort by UMaine’s opponents is 2.5 per game higher.
“There’s a lot of teams in this league that are shooting a lot of 3’s, but we’ve got to slow that down,” Woodward said.
“We’ve really just got to keep our defensive balance, expand our ball pressure a little bit,” he added. “It really starts with defense and rebounding for us.”
Conversely, UMaine has not been shooting the ball well from the perimeter.
While junior Gerald McLemore has gone a sparkling 20-for-40 (50 percent) from 3-point range in the last five games, the rest of the team is a combined 11-for-56 (20 percent) from long distance.
Shooters Terrance Mitchell, Raheem Singleton, Murphy Burnatowski and Andrew Rogers haven’t found the range of late.
The Bears have been OK offensively, but opponents’ hot shooting has reduced UMaine’s transition chances and its own shooting woes have prevented the team from establishing the kind of swagger it displayed a few weeks ago.
“When you play defense and rebound, it allows some of your guys to get in transition and get some easy baskets and I think confidence starts to grow,” Woodward said.
“I really do believe in these guys, but we need them all to play well to get to where we want to go.”
UM women still struggling
The UMaine women’s team suffered another loss Saturday, falling 66-62 at Stony Brook.
It was the 10th consecutive loss for coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (3-22, 1-12 AE), who again were plagued by turnovers.
UMaine fell behind my as many as 19 points in the second half, then fought back to make it interesting. However, the Bears committed 32 turnovers, including eight each by point guards Ashleigh Roberts and Katelyn Vanderhoff.
“It really comes down to decision-making, and right now it’s our point guards,” Blodgett said. “That really hurts you when they’re our primary ballhandlers.”
Stony Brook scored 30 points as a result of the turnovers.
“Even if you cut that in half and you’ve got 16 (turnovers), you walk out of there with a win, because that gives you 16 more possessions to get a score,” Blodgett said.
She said UMaine needs to demonstrate more discipline in handling and passing the basketball to make every possession count.
“What the turnovers did was, they caused us to have such a lack of flow offensively,” Blodgett said. “When we were not turning the ball over, we were executing and we were taking good shots.”
UMaine also was whistled for 30 fouls in the game (Stony Brook went only 24-for-40 from the line) and gave up 22 offensive rebounds.
With the Bears idle until Sunday, Blodgett and her staff are giving the players two days off to rest and regroup. When they return to the gym, the focus will be on reducing turnovers.
Blodgett said her team continues to exhibit plenty of tenacity and resilience in spite of its struggles.
“To overcome 32 turnovers and to still be two possessions away speaks to how hard they worked,” Blodgett. “I don’t question their effort, not in the least. It’s more a question of their focus.”
UMaine plays its final home game Sunday at 1 p.m. against Vermont. It will be Senior Day, during which Tanna Ross of Newburgh will be honored.
Blodgett believes there is still time for the Bears to iron out their issues and hit their stride for the tournament.
“If you can tie things together, you could go on a run. For us, you can’t wait any longer. If you want to make a stretch run, the most important piece is to have some confidence going in.”