University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon has spent this season addressing any weaknesses that have cropped up.
In preparation for Sunday’s America East semifinal game against Albany, the Black Bears have been focused on post defense.
UMaine (16-2 overall) is preparing for its 1 p.m. contest at Memorial Gym in Orono against Albany (7-10), a 49-43 winner over New Hampshire in its quarterfinal.
UMass Lowell visits Stony Brook in the other semifinal. The winners play at 5 p.m. on March 12 on the home court of the higher-seeded team with the America East title and an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
The Black Bears have been trying to shore up their defense under the basket.
“Whoever we play now is going to try to pound it down low, so we’ve worked on a variety of ways to guard the post,” Vachon said. “And we’ve been fine-tuning our offense, working on our timing.”
That effort may be hampered as UMaine could be without senior forward Fanny Wadling, who missed the New Hampshire game with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The effort thus falls to senior forward Maeve Carroll, senior guard Blanca Millan and sophomore backup forward Abbe Laurence.
Millan, who recently became the league’s first two-time recipient of Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, also is likely to be an offensive post presence.
“I’m a big guard who is often being guarded by someone smaller, so I worked a lot in the offseason on posting up. That helps me as well as the team,” Millan said.
She is one of five seniors who will be trying to extend their careers this weekend. Carroll plans to return under the NCAA’s COVID-19 blanket waiver, but point guard Dor Saar, Wadling, Millan and guard Kelly Fogarty won’t be back, so they want a crack at a third NCAA berth.
Vachon acknowledged that pressure can produce subpar performances, but it can also elevate a senior’s performance level, which she is banking on.
“It will make us focus more on the little details,” Millan said. “We know it could be our last game so we’re going to give it all we have.”
Millan said the team hasn’t taken anything for granted because, due to the pandemic, “you never knew when it could be your last game.”
UMaine swept Albany earlier this season and has won the last eight meetings. The Black Bears also have won their last seven home playoff games, at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and Memorial Gym, by an average of 17 points.
But UMaine expects a competitive game.
Albany coach Colleen Mullen said her team is excited and goes into the game without any pressure, since UMaine is heavily favored.
“Playing in ‘The Pit’ is always a great experience. It’s going to be a great challenge,” Mullen said. “We have to keep it a low-scoring game and limit their possessions. Their guards are terrific.
“Millan, Simon and Carroll are a three-headed monster,” said Mullen, who said Albany is thin at guard because of some nagging injuries.
Albany, which snapped a three-game losing streak against UNH, is led by 6-1 forward Helene Haegerstand (10.8 ppg, 3 rebounds per game), an all-conference third-team choice, and 5-11 G Ellen Hahne (9.6 pp, 6.9 rpg).