ORONO, Maine — It was a weekend of missed opportunities for the University of Maine’s basketball teams.
The Black Bear women had a chance Sunday to end a protracted losing streak and generate some confidence and momentum moving forward.
Instead, coach Richard Barron’s team endured second-half defensive struggles that helped Binghamton University escape Alfond Arena with a 67-65 America East victory.
On Saturday, coach Ted Woodward’s UMaine men’s squad could have ended a two-game losing streak.
However, the Bears also experienced defensive woes in the second half and last-place Binghamton departed Orono after a 57-56 win at Memorial Gym.
It was a good news, bad news scenario for the women’s team.
On the plus side, UMaine received strong play from three of its freshmen. The trio of Liz Wood, Lauren Bodine and Sophie Weckstrom turned in their best individual performances to help the Bears demonstrate some all-too-infrequent offensive effectiveness.
That wasn’t enough for the team (1-17, 0-5 AE) to break a losing streak that has now reached 14 games.
The key problem was UMaine’s defense.
“What’s so disappointing to me is what played like defensively, especially in the post,” Barron said.
The frustration was palpable for the women’s team, who played some of their best ball of the season while building a 16-point lead in the first half, but could not sustain the momentum.
Binghamton cut the deficit to nine by halftime and had taken the lead midway through the second half.
“We need to get more runs like that [one in the first half] every game and hopefully play 40 minutes like that and get a win,” said Wood, who has been UMaine’s catalyst of late and was named the league rookie of the week on Monday.
The 5-foot-10 guard from Catlett, Va., scored a career-high 20 points with nine rebounds and six assists on Saturday. She shot 6-for-9 from the field and appears to have regained her shooting touch after an extended slump.
That followed last Wednesday’s 14-point, 10-rebound effort in a lopsided loss to Boston University.
“For a while I was going through a really bad shooting slump, so I kind of tried to shift my focus into doing the little things — crashing the boards hard, getting opportunities for my teammates to score and just taking care of the ball,” Wood explained. “I think doing those things has helped me build my game, and I’ve gained confidence from those.”
Wood is averaging 7.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while playing 31 minutes per game.
Saturday also featured effective play from two other freshmen.
Shooting guard Bodine had her best game thus far, going 5-for-9 from the 3-point arc to score 15 points. Point guard Weckstrom, starting in place of the injured Courtney Anderson, directed the offense and finished with seven points, seven rebounds, six assists and only one turnover.
“I thought the three freshman starters all played some of their best basketball,” said Barron, who pointed to their efforts as setting the tone for how the team will proceed.
“We’re going to lean heavily on those that are working hard and doing what we need to do,” he said after commenting on the Bears’ lack of bench production against Binghamton and in practice.
The UMaine women next play Wednesday at Vermont.
The UMaine men are searching for answers and refocusing after an uninspired performance against a Binghamton team that had lost 14 straight contests and was playing not only on the road, but in the gym where the Black Bears practice several times a week.
Binghamton’s defense was the difference. UMaine was content to pass the ball around the perimeter and did not attack the Bearcats’ 2-3 zone, which effectively contained Bears post standout Ali Fraser (eight points) and bottled up the middle.
“Obviously, we tried to be in a situation where we could [penetrate off the dribble], but there were a couple guys there [in the lane] every time,” Woodward said.
Rather than force the issue, UMaine tried to break the zone with its outside shooting, but was unsuccessful.
The Bears allowed only 57 points, but allowed the Bearcats to shoot 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the second half.
“The second half, defensively, I don’t think we played as well as we hoped to play,” Woodward said. “They made a big shot down the stretch, but we certainly feel like there were a lot of things we could have done to play better in that basketball game. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us.”
UMaine could not overcome its defensive lapses, as it shot 33 percent in the second half and made only six of 26 shots (23 percent) from beyond the 3-point line. That dynamic allowed Binghamton to remain in its zone and limit the Bears’ frontcourt to a combined 21 points and 16 rebounds.
“Our shots didn’t fall that we normally make, so they were going to be able to pack the paint,” said Fraser, who had a string of seven double-figure scoring games halted.
UMaine (7-11, 2-3 AE) has slipped into sixth place in the conference standings going into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. contest against first-place Vermont (12-6, 5-1 AE) at Alfond Arena.