ORONO, Maine — Coach Richard Barron’s youthful University of Maine women’s basketball team will have its hands full when it plays its home opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday against a veteran and talented Syracuse University team at Alfond Arena.
Barron said he has seen his team getting better over its first two games and is looking forward to the challenge.
“Our attitudes are good. We know this is going to be a gruelling nonconference schedule and we have to focus on improvement. That has to be our goal,” said Barron.
Maine played in the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational Tournament in Raleigh, N.C., over the weekend, losing to Auburn 71-41 and then to Wofford (S.C.) 79-76 in overtime.
“We took a step forward [against Wofford],” said Barron. “That’s the best Wofford team they’ve ever had. I don’t think we executed as well defensively as we would have liked but we played with a lot of energy and we had some good possessions offensively. There were some plays we really executed well on and it was good to see.”
The Black Bears wiped out a 12-point deficit to force the overtime.
“We’re getting better collectively but we have to smooth out the rough patches as the season goes on,” said Barron.
He is enjoying the teaching process and watching his team develop.
“As we continue to play and evaluate in practice, they’ll get to see things on film,” said Barron. “It takes 30 days to change a habit, usually more like 60 days. We’ve got a lot of things to teach. You’ve got to break the old habit and instill the new one.
“Conceptually, they understand what we’re trying to do. But executing it at game speed [is a challenge]. You can’t call time-out on every play to reinforce it. So we’ve got to get better at doing those things consistently. But we’ve seen improvement and we’re excited to get going at home.”
Junior guard Ashleigh Roberts had a game-high 29 points against Wofford to earn an all-tournament berth.
And freshman guard Brittany Wells had four 3-pointers, including one with 18 seconds left to force the OT.
Two other freshmen, forwards Liz Wood and Mikaela Gustafsson, had 11 and 10 points, respectively. Gustafsson and Wood were the team’s top rebounders with nine and seven, respectively.
Syracuse is coming off a 22-15 season in which it set a school record with four postseason victories, all on the road, in the Women’s NIT. They were beaten in the semifinals by James Madison 74-71.
The Orange lost leading scorer Iasia Hemingway (14.9 points per game) but return their next eight scorers and have a freshman class rated sixth-best in the country by ESPN HoopGurlz. The class features McDonald’s All-Americans Brittney Sykes and Brianna Butler.
Two-time All-Big East selection Kayla Alexander, a 6-foot-4 senior center, averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds a year ago and her 2.6 blocks per game were 19th best in the nation. Carmen Tyson-Thomas averaged 10.7 ppg.