The loss of America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan means the University of Maine’s women’s basketball team’s run of consecutive America East regular season and tournament championships and NCAA Tournament berths almost certainly will come to an end at two.
Senior Millan suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in Friday’s loss to Arizona State and she will require season-ending surgery.
UMaine (2-6) is off to its worst start since the 2012-2013 team started the season 1-18.
Since Millan played in only six games, she can apply for a medical redshirt and it likely will be granted based on NCAA guidelines. That means she can return next season.
However, if she graduates in May, she could elect to transfer to another school and play immediately, or forego her fifth year and begin a pro career.
You simply don’t replace a game-changer like Millan, who was averaging 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals in five-plus games. She is one of the best all-around players in program history.
She is already eighth on UMaine’s all-time scoring list with 1,547 points in 106 (14.6 ppg).
Millan has always been a good perimeter shooter and a prolific scorer in transition but this season also attacked the rim off the dribble.
Her long arms, tenacity and keen anticipation have enabled her to average 2.5 steals in her career and those often led to transition baskets for the Black Bears. She usually guarded the opposing team’s top scorer.
Millan also is a well-respected leader and a fierce competitor who has come through in the clutch time and time again. She makes everyone around her better.
The loss of Millan hurts a UMaine team already trying to compensate for the loss of their major inside force, forward Fanny Wadling. The senior, who hasn’t played yet this season with a concussion, averaged a league-best 9 rebounds along with 6.7 points and 2.9 assists last season.
As happens with head injuries, there is no definitive timetable for Wadling’s possible return. If unable to return, she could also receive a medical redshirt, which would be another boost for next year’s team.
However, Wadling is expected to return and she showed no ill effects last year after missing 10 games with a concussion.
All-America East third-team point guard Dor Saar will be back as a senior.
That’s an intriguing scenario and one rival America East coaches hope doesn’t come to fruition.
Players like freshmen guards Anne Simon and Anna Kahelin and freshman forward Abbe Laurence would have a valuable year of experience under their belts to bolster the talent and depth of the 2020-2021 team.
A lack of quality depth has been a recurring problem for UMaine.
The Black Bears will still be competitive in America East because the conference is weak and they still have one of the league’s best point guards (Saar) and rebounders (Wadling).
A conference semifinal berth is possible if Wadling returns and the younger players continue to develop quickly. UMaine should be improved when it opens conference play Jan. 2, 2020, against Hartford.
The Black Bears will still be tough to beat at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center, where they have a 22-2 America East record the last three seasons and are 31-4 overall.
Simon (5.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.4 spg) and Kahelin (3.8 ppg, 3 4 rpg) must accelerate their learning curves. They have understandably struggled so far, but also have exhibited a lot of promise while logging 25-plus minutes per contest.
And the non-conference schedule has been tough. Three of UMaine’s losses have come against teams that played in the NCAA tournament (North Carolina State, Arizona State and Drake) and Dayton was an NCAA tourney team in 2018.
UMaine must start shooting better than its 35 percent showing, which includes a 25.4 percent from the 3-point arc.
Until Wadling returns and 6-foot forward Gaddy Lefft is healthy, UMaine will have major struggles under the boards. The Black Bears have been much smaller than most opponents and have been outrebounded by 11.6 per game.
Junior Maeve Carroll (8 ppg, 6 rpg) has been one of the bright spots as a first-year starter, but she must stay out of foul trouble.
Laurence is a raw talent who is athletic and is one of their most aggressive rebounders. Junior Kira Barra, at 6-3, is a good midrange shooter but is limited by a tender knee.
UMaine needs more consistent point production from Saar (9.3 ppg), who is shooting 28.7 percent, senior guard Maddy McVicar (.235) and junior guard Kelly Fogarty (.256 percent). McVicar is averaging 4.8 points and Fogarty is at 3.8 ppg.
With Millan gone and Wadling injured, UMaine’s freshmen will receive more valuable playing time, which should benefit the program this season and beyond.