ORONO, Maine — The second semester has begun at the University of Maine, where its basketball teams are hoping that also signals a new start in their respective seasons.
The Black Bears still have many challenges ahead on the court as the America East Conference season enters its third week.
The UMaine men have a bit of a break this week after Saturday’s loss at Albany. Coach Ted Woodward’s team does not have a midweek game, thus providing some extra time to prepare for Saturday’s contest against Binghamton at Memorial Gym.
The Black Bears (7-10 overall, 2-2 AE) have lost two straight, both on the road. They are tied with Boston University for fifth place in the league standings.
The midweek bye should be beneficial for a UMaine squad that has been passing around a “cold.”
“We’ve had guys with a bout of some sickness, so hopefully we can get them squared away and just get ourselves ready for our next opponent,” Woodward said.
In addition to getting reacclimated to being back in classes, the Bears should be able to take advantage of some extra practice time.
“I think it’s great,” Woodward said. “We’re still growing as a basketball team and there’s some things that all along the way we’ll have to tweak and work on and this week will give us an opportunity to do that.”
UMaine is 5-1 at home so far this season, and has registered five consecutive victories in Orono.
The Bears have been highly competitive, despite a lineup that features two sophomores, two freshmen and a newcomer among its top seven players. UMaine’s conference losses have come against Hartford and Albany, teams that have a combined record of 24-11, including a 6-2 America East mark.
UMaine will remain at home for a Jan. 22 game against Vermont before traveling to Stony Brook on Jan. 26.
UMaine women reeling
On the women’s side, the Black Bears are trying to find a few positives as they work through a protracted skid.
Amidst the worst start in program history, UMaine comes into the week with a dismal 1-15 record that includes an 0-3 America East mark.
Coach Richard Barron’s team has lost 12 consecutive games dating back to a Nov. 17 victory over Nevada Las Vegas at a tournament in Minnesota. The Black Bears are still four games away from matching the 16-game losing streak suffered by former coach Cindy Blodgett’s squad during the 2008-2009 season.
Barron concedes the players are struggling with their self-confidence as they strive for improvement.
“This is going to take a while,” Barron said on the Black Bear Sports Network after Saturday’s 71-39 loss at Albany. “We’ve got to coach for the future and teach these kids.”
The ballclub, which is the youngest in all of Division I, includes nine freshmen and two sophomores among 13 active players.
However, UMaine will move forward minus one of its first-year players. Michal Assaf, a reserve guard, has withdrawn from the university to return to Israel. She has been called up for active military duty, a requirement of all Israeli citizens.
Barron, who remains intent on motivating his players by whatever means is necessary, appears to be taking a softer tone when discussing his team.
“I want to remind everybody how hard these kids are working,” he said. “I told them before the [Albany] game, we’ve got a lot to teach them, we’ve got a lot to work on. We’re going to keep doing it, we’re going to stay after it, but for them not to get discouraged at this point says a lot about their character. We’ve got a lot of good kids.”
The Bears’ most recent setbacks have come during a difficult stretch of their conference schedule. Perennial contender Hartford beat UMaine last Wednesday in Orono, before the Bears were overwhelmed Saturday by defending America East champion Albany.
While UMaine is home for two games in a row, it will face another formidable opponent on Wednesday. Boston University (14-3, 4-0 AE) will arrive in Orono riding an 11-game winning streak.
That kicks off a stretch of the schedule during which the Bears will play five of their next seven contests at home. Among them is Sunday’s game against Binghamton in Orono.