For shoppers looking for the best Christmas bargains, this Friday is “Black Friday.”
For fans of the University of Maine women’s basketball team, it’s more like “Black Bears Friday.”
Coach Richard Barron will coach his first countable game at Alfond Arena in Orono at 6 p.m. Friday when UMaine plays Troy (Alabama) University in the first round of the Dead River Co. Classic.
This marks the 19th edition of the tournament, which tips off at 4 p.m. with a game between Brown and Evansville.
On Saturday, the losers play at noon with the championship game scheduled to begin at approximately 2 p.m.
The Dead River Co. Classic has featured plenty of high-caliber team since its inception. In spite of its outstanding teams over the years, UMaine has managed to bring home the tournament title only three times (1995, 2004, 2006).
This time around, the youthful Black Bears are among four rebuilding programs in this 2011 event.
UMaine (1-2) was picked to finish last in America East and Troy (0-3) , it’s first-round opponent, was the preseason No. 6 choice in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference.
Brown (1-3) was selected fifth among eight programs in the Ivy league preseason coaches poll, while Evansville (0-3) was picked ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference.
That said, the team that is able to put together strong back-to-back performances this week in Orono may be able to parlay two victories into some significant momentum heading into December.
One of the key issues thus far for the Black Bears has been their propensity for committing turnovers. UMaine is averaging 21 turnovers per game, which has helped its opponents score points in transition.
The Bears could significantly improve their prospects by cutting down on turnovers and instead cashing in on more frequent offensive possesions. UMaine is shooting a solid 40 percent from the field, but looks to develop a more effective team concept, as it is averaging only eight assists per contest.
On defense, the Bears have been steady with a guard-oriented lineup. They have given up 58.7 points per game on 36 percent shooting by opponents to rank among America East leaders in those categories.
Black Bears help with food drive
Barron and the UMaine women’s team spread some holiday good will Wednesday afternoon as they spent three hours at the Bangor Mall.
The Black Bears weren’t shopping, though. Instead, they helped collected food with broadcasters “Mike and Mike” of KISS 94.5 radio during the 13th annual Manna Food Drive held in the parking lot.
The UMaine women’s team has for several years performed some community service project around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Barron hosts ‘Club Cub Huddle’
Among the new features within the UMaine women’s basketball program this season is the formation of the “Cub Club Huddle.”
Coach Barron will conduct “Cub Club Huddle” approximately 30 minutes before each home game. Youngsters up to eighth grade have the chance to meet Barron outside the locker room for a 10-minute talk to learn about the game and particular things to look for in the game.
Following the huddle, kids are invited to join Bananas and the cheerleaders in forming a tunnel for when the players comeback on the court approximately three minutes before the starting lineups are introduced.
UMaine youth clinic set Friday
For those area youngsters who would prefer not to tag along with their parents to the mall or local shopping center, UMaine basketball has an alternative.
Black Bear basketball head coaches Ted Woodward and Barron, along with their respective staffs, are conducting a free skills clinic Friday morning. Participants also will have the opportunity to meet UMaine team members.
The event, which is open to boys in grades 1-6 and girls in grades 1-8, will run from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. inside Memorial Gym on the UMaine campus.
Those interested in attending should RSVP to UMaine women’s assistant coach Amy Vachon at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 581-3094 indicating the name and grade of the player.