When a basketball program has struggled as much as the University of Maine women in recent years, progress is measured in small steps.
The Black Bears took another step forward Saturday by posting a 54-41 America East victory over Stony Brook.
It was the second win in three games for coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (5-15, 2-5 AE), who have pulled themselves out of the America East cellar and into seventh place.
Saturday’s victory, which featured four UMaine players scoring in double figures, was the program’s first conference road win in more than two years — the last coming Jan. 12, 2010, at New Hampshire.
It also was the Bears’ second road victory of the season after having only one during the 2010-11 campaign.
Barron said his team has recently demonstrated a more competitive nature while showing signs of improvement.
“I thought the physical toughness is where we’ve seen an improvement going back to the Albany game,” Barron said Monday.
The Bears have played better overall since an embarrassing 75-34 loss Jan. 11 at Boston University. Since then, UMaine is 2-2 and has exhibited a more competitive nature.
Barron said one of the keys moving forward will be to achieve better consistency of effort and performance for the duration of games.
“I think we’ve put pretty decent 30-minute performances together for the last three or four games,” he said. “It’s getting to that 40 that’s really going to be important.”
He explained the Bears continue to experience offensive droughts in games. When those arise, Barron said, UMaine’s defense also tends to falter.
“We still have to overcome those lulls, whether it’s a different defense (we’re facing) or substitutions that we make, that all of a sudden we lose our aggressiveness in terms of scoring opportunities,” Barron said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re consistent with our offensive execution throughout the course of the game.”
Even though turnovers continue to be a significant hindrance to its offensive efforts, UMaine also seems to be developing better chemistry, as evidenced by placing four players in double figures at Stony Brook and three or more in two of the previous three outings.
“We seem to have much better rhythm and focus and, at times, just making basketball plays,” Barron said. “Whether it’s kicking the ball out, hitting the open jump shot, feeding the post, there are little things that we do now.”
Senior forward Sam Baranowski has figured prominently in the team’s improved play of late. She is averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last four games.
“This weekend, I think Sam continued her strong play,” Barron said.
Barron also mentioned sophomore Ashleigh Roberts, junior Corinne Wellington and freshman Danielle Walczak as putting in good efforts on the recent road trip. He views the offensive performance of senior guard Brittany Williams as an important piece of the puzzle.
She had 11 points, including two 3-pointers, at Stony Brook, but managed only one point against Hartford.
“When she shoots the ball well, our team really responds and gives us a lot of confidence,” Barron said.
UMaine is now preparing for Wednesday’s 6 p.m. home game at Memorial Gym against New Hampshire. The Bears then play host to Binghamton at approximately 4:30 p.m. Saturday as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team at Alfond Arena.
“Everybody has room for improvement. There are things that everybody can do,” Barron said.