ORONO — Liz Wood’s statistics show a drop-off in her senior season.

And if you think that bothers one of the best players ever to suit up for the Maine women’s basketball team, then you don’t know what drives her.

“I think what I do this year more than anything doesn’t really show up on the stat sheets,” Wood said. “I’m more of a presence and provide leadership and maybe it shows up in someone else’s stats. Maybe someone else has more points because I’m leading them in the right way and that may not be as rewarding for the stat-sheet people, but for me that’s all that I want.

“Our team has had a great year and some of our players have really stepped up. I’d like to think that I might have had a little bit to do with that, and that’s rewarding in itself.”

Wood will be the touchstone for the Black Bears once again Friday when Maine (26-8) visits Quinnipiac (24-8) for a WNIT opening-round game in Hamden, Connecticut. A victory would extend the career of Wood and seven other seniors, with a second-round matchup against either Drexel (on the road Sunday) or Temple (at home Monday or Tuesday).

It’s not the position Maine wanted to be in, after tying with Albany atop the America East Conference for a second consecutive year. A 59-58 loss to the Great Danes last Friday sent Albany to the Big Dance and the Black Bears back to the WNIT, where they lost in the first round at Villanova a year ago.

But at least Maine gets to keep playing, and there was evident enthusiasm as the players got back to work this week.

“It still hurts today. And I think it will hurt a long time,” Wood said of missing out on the NCAA Tournament by a single point. “But I am appreciative of the fact that we have another game and we can use this to get over that loss and have something else to focus on instead of just sitting around on spring break and staring at your ceiling.”

Wood is averaging 9.5 points per game, down from 13.8 a year ago. She is attempting only 8.3 shots, down from 11.2 last season. She leads the team in rebounds at 7.4 (7.7 last year) and has added 2.8 assists (3.4) and 2.5 steals (2.7). She also is the best defender on a team that ranked third in the nation by allowing opponents to score only 50 points per game. And her assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 is the best of her career.

Other players – notably junior point guard Sigi Koizar – have picked up Wood’s scoring load. Koizar leads the team at 17.5 points per game; post players Mikaela Gustafsson (8.7) and Bella Swan (8.0) have been consistent complements. Maine is averaging 61 points per outing, nearly identical to last year’s pace when it finished at 23-9.

It’s all part of Coach Richard Barron’s plan.

“We’re not a team who’s ever said we’ve got to get so-and-so 20 shots or we’ve got to get so-and-so 10 shots in a game. We’re just not driven that way. We just play the game and take what’s there,” Barron said.

“(Wood is) not consciously stepping back to let other people step up. That’s just the way we play. We’re not telling everybody this is where the shot has to come from, this is who has to take it. We’re asking them to make decisions in the moment based on what’s open.”

Wood is still the most calming presence on the court for the Black Bears, the player others look to when times get difficult. The veteran team needs to do that less and less. Wood is playing 32.6 minutes per game (second only to Koizar), almost four minutes fewer on average than last year. Still, when she fouled out of the last two games, a 51-48 conference semifinal victory over Stony Brook and the loss to Albany, her absence was noticeable.

Wood is seventh all-time in scoring at Maine (1,445 points), sixth in rebounding (896) and eighth in assists (361). Her place in Black Bears lore is secure, without even taking into account her outstanding defense. The extra muscle Wood carries on her 5-foot-10 frame has enabled her to contain much bigger opponents in the post.

“It’s helpful because not only can they not throw you around but you don’t get tired as easily. You don’t have to exert all your force all the time,” said Wood, who credited new sports performance coach Mallory Benard with helping her transformation.

“My arms don’t always look great in a dress but they certainly help when I’m trying to play post defense.”

 


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