BIDDEFORD — On the outside, it’s hard to find too many blemishes in the University of New England women’s basketball team’s past three games, against Tufts, Southern Maine and Bowdoin. But to head coach Anthony Ewing, there is plenty to work on as the Nor’easters kick off their Commonwealth Coast Conference season tonight against Eastern Nazarene.

After opening the season with a relatively easy victory over Wellesley in the semifinals of the Ramada Roundball Invitational, the Nor’easters fell to nationally ranked Tufts, 63-58, in a rematch of an NCAA tournament game that ended UNE’s season last year.

The Nor’easters followed that up with victories over in-state rivals USM (77-73 in overtime) and Bowdoin, who are traditional powers and NCAA tourney regulars.

But sitting at 3-1, and with the lone loss to a national top-five team, Ewing said he isn’t satisfied with where his team is yet.

“It’s still a work in progress, without a doubt. There’s been some good stuff so far from the early season; we’ve shot the ball pretty well and we’ve taken care of the ball,” said Ewing. “But defensively we have not been good and on the boards we have not been good.”

The Nor’easters are allowing opponents to score 62.8 points per game through four games, which is a far cry from the 52.6 that they allowed a season ago. Those opponents are shooting at a 40 percent clip, up from the 34 percent they allowed last year.

“Opponents are shooting too high of a percentage against us,” Ewing put simply.

Scoring hasn’t a been a problem for UNE, which has averaged 67 points per game this season ”“ up a tick from the 66.6 it averaged last year. The Nor’easters have four players averaging double-digit points, led by junior guard Alanna Vose at 14.8 points per game.

“She’s playing her best basketball since she’s been here,” Ewing said of Vose. “She’s always been able to score, but what’s keeping her out there is her improved ball-handling ”“ she’s stronger with the ball, she’s making better decisions ”“ and her defense has gotten better.”

Joining Vose in the double-digit scorer club is reigning CCC Player of the Year Kelly Coleman (14.0 points per game), junior guard Sadie DiPierro (11.3) and junior point guard Meghan Gribbin (10.3).

“It’s one of our best attributes, I think, is that anybody on any given night can put up the numbers that we need to score,” said Ewing. “It makes us tough to guard; you can’t focus on just one thing.”

The Murderer’s Row that UNE just got done facing “re-emphasizes” that the Nor’easters are a tough team, according to Ewing, but he said the confidence boost from those games don’t mean much if the team doesn’t get up for less-heralded conference games.

“We want to play the toughest schedule we can play. It’s really good if we can bring the same kind of intensity that we brought to these regional powers,” said Ewing. “We have to bring that same intensity (tonight) against Eastern Nazarene or it doesn’t really help us.”

UNE beat the Lions in both meetings last year ”“ including a 72-37 rout in Biddeford ”“ but Ewing doesn’t want his team to overlook a different team this season.

“Eastern Nazarene has some new players, a couple junior college transfer kids that are very athletic, can score the basketball. Their record isn’t great, but they’ve played some close games,” said Ewing. “I expect that to be a tough, competitive game.”

The Nor’easters continue conference play on Saturday when they host Endicott before a month-long break between the academic semesters. The Gulls played UNE close in both games last season.

“Endicott, right now, looks like they’re shaping up to be one of the toughest competitors in the league,” said Ewing. “They have a lot of veterans back, they have some new kids playing well. That will be a real early-season test as far as conference play goes.”

While the Nor’easters’ last three games show them where they stack up against other potential NCAA tournament teams, none of that matters unless UNE actually gets there. First things first, they will have to navigate through the CCC schedule and hopefully win the conference tournament ”“ which would give the Nor’easters an automatic berth into the big dance.

“These (conference) games are huge. Playing against these other top teams in new England is big for us, but we know where our bread is buttered is with these conference games,” said Ewing. “And we want to host the conference tournament; that’s one of our initial goals, to host that conference tournament.”

Tip-off for tonight’s CCC opener against Eastern Nazarene at the Harold Alfond Forum is set for 5:30 p.m.

—Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WilTalkSports.



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