ORONO, Maine — Establishing some consistent 3-point shooters has been a significant concern this season for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
Recently, Zarko Valjarevic has demonstrated the ability to give coach Ted Woodward’s team another perimeter threat.
Valjarevic has knocked down 13 3-point shots over the last three games for the Black Bears and his contributions will be needed Wednesday night when they face the University of New Hampshire in a 7 p.m. game at Alfond Arena.
“We knew he could shoot the ball and obviously it gives us another element to put on the perimeter,” Woodward said after Tuesday’s practice at Memorial Gym. “Shooting’s still an issue for us and we have to keep that part of our game balanced.”
Valjarevic, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Belgrade, Serbia, has been good of late. In the last three games, he has shot 13-for-30 (43 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
That includes a 7-for-12 performance in Saturday’s 79-69 loss at Stony Brook during which he went 6-for-8 in the second half.
“Obviously, when I play more I have more confidence,” Valjarevic said. “As I’m starting those last two games, I feel very confident right now.”
In his recently expanded role, Valjarevic is averaging 25 minutes in the last three contests while averaging 14.3 points along with 1.3 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Valjarevic, who appeared in only six games last season, believes experience has been a factor in cracking the lineup.
“I was always ready. There just happened to be a chance right now,” he said. “I know the first year I didn’t play much, but I was waiting for my chance. I always know I’m a good shooter and I’m a good player.”
Valjarevic plays the shooting guard or “two” guard position, which enables Woodward to have him on the floor along with junior small forward Jon Mesghna, the Bears’ leading 3-point shooter at 40 percent (39-for-98).
“When you have two good shooters like me and Jon, that makes space for our leaders, our best players, like [Alasdair] Fraser and [Justin] Edwards,” Valjarevic said. “They have much more space if they have a shooter on the outside so the paint is not packed.”
Valjarevic said he has continued to concentrate on stepping up his defensive play within the framework of UMaine’s schemes. Woodward has seen the growth.
“He’s the quickest guy on our team athletically, based on some stuff we did in the fall, so he’s got the capability to move his feet and do those type of things [play defense],” Woodward said.
Valjarevic, himself a former tennis player, has team bragging rights — along with freshman Sefan Micovic — on that front for the time being. That’s because fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic recently won his third straight Australian Open men’s crown.
“My boy won and I was really happy,” Valjarevic said. “Ali Fraser, he’s from Scotland, so he was rooting for [Great Britain’s] Andy Murray and I was rooting for Djokovic. It was a fun night.”