Last season, guard Anne Simon was the America East Rookie of the Year. She became Maine’s top offensive threat down the stretch, averaging 17.5 points and 6.9 rebounds over the final 10 games. University of Rhode Island photo

When a knee injury ended University of Maine women’s basketball standout Blanca Millan’s 2019-20 season after just six games, then-freshman Anne Simon was one of the players who helped fill the void. Nobody could replace Millan — the America East Player of the Year — in the Black Bears’ lineup, but Simon played well, earning conference rookie of the year honors.

Now, with Milan and Simon on the court together, Maine is benefiting from a dangerous one-two combination.

In eight of Maine’s nine games this season, either Millan or Simon has led the team in scoring or rebounding. Averaging 23 points per game, Millan leads the conference in scoring and is 15th nationally. At 12.1 points per game, Simon is second on the team and ninth in the conference in scoring. The pair of guards are both in the top 10 in America East in rebounding, with Millan (8.8 rebounds per game) second and Simon (6.2) 10th.

The Black Bears (8-1, 5-1 America East) play host to Vermont (4-2, 4-2) for a pair of games this weekend.

Millan got a small taste of playing alongside Simon last season, before a torn ACL ended her season. After watching Simon improve throughout her rookie season, Millan is happy to share the court with the sophomore who continues to make big plays for the Black Bears.

“To see (Simon), she’s able to do a lot of things for us, too, at both ends. I think it’s great,” Millan said in a Zoom call with media Tuesday morning. “I love playing with her. I know she looks up to me, so I try to do my best to help her out. She does a lot to help me out, too. It’s just been good to have her playing with me. I barely played with her last year, and I was very excited to be back and be able to play with her.”

Earlier this season, Simon had to be reminded not to always defer to Millan offensively. If a shot was there, take it, Simon was told.

“I think it’s definitely a work in progress. Anne, I think for a little while, was kind of taking a step back in a way. We all talked and Blanca said to her, ‘look, just because I’m back doesn’t mean you don’t have to do what you were doing last year.’ We want everyone operating at their best,” Maine Coach Amy Vachon said.

The Black Bears saw what the Millan-Simon duo can accomplish at their best in a 77-60 win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology last Saturday. Millan scored a game-high 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. Simon scored 22 points, shooting 9 for 12 from the floor with five boards. The pair combined for eight assists, helping teammates get on the score sheet.

“I think they both give us two dynamic players. They both cut really well. Anne’s very strong. They’re different, but they’re similar in some ways, so it’s nice to see them play together,” Vachon said. “Anne’s just really intense all the time. Not that Blanca’s not, but Blanca is more smooth, I would say, where Anne is going at you hard. They both are tremendous defenders and they both have really improved their 3-point shot this year.”

University of Maine guard Blanca Millan looks to make a pass as Rhode Island sophomore Yanni Hendley defends during a Dec. 11 game at the Ryan Center in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Photo provided by University of Rhode Island athletics

Millan has made just over 35 percent of her 3-point attempts this season (18 for 51), up from her career percentage of .303 entering the season. Simon’s 3-point percentage was .277 as a freshman, making just over one in four tries. This season, she’s made 3-pointers 33 percent of the time (11 for 33). With scoring threats like Dor Saar, Maeve Carroll and Kelly Fogarty, the Black Bears have depth, and that has helped free Millan and Simon to create shots for themselves without being the only focus of opposing defenses.

“It just opens the floor for both of us. (Simon’s) a great shooter and she can drive the basketball, too. If teams are really focused on me, she can go ahead and do that. We kind of supplement each other. I think it’s really good for us,” Millan said.

Added Vachon: “I think Blanca’s posting up a little bit more, and her pull-up jump shot in transition. Anne likes to get to the rim hard.”

Millan was named America East Player of the Week for the third time this season and 11th time in her career. The 2019 conference Player of the Year, Millan is just as motivated to improve now as she was when she arrived at UMaine, Vachon said.

“It’s very easy to push her and motivate her. She has very high goals. Her goals don’t stop at the University of Maine. She wants to continue playing. So in order to do that, she understands what she needs to improve on and how she can be the best,” Vachon said. “Her ultimate goal here is that we win a championship, so that motivates her every single day. The individual awards are much deserved, but at the end of the day she’d give them up to win another championship, and that’s what makes her special.”

Helping the growth of teammates like Simon is a part of that.

“I have great players on my team, and they make it so much easier on me,” Millan said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.