Maine’’s Dor Saar tries to get around Navy’s Mary Kate Ulasewicz. Saar finished with eight points, six assists. Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The University of Maine’s decision to pause athletic competition because of COVID-19 cases in the athletic department until at least Feb. 4 is a minor inconvenience for the women’s basketball team. A bye week originally scheduled for Feb. 6-7 is now this weekend. For Coach Amy Vachon, this break gives the Black Bears a chance to work on some things.

“This week we’re really focusing on ourselves, what we need to do to get better. What are the different areas we need to improve on?” Vachon said in a Zoom call with media this week. “I think it comes at a great time for us. There are things we want to improve on. That gives us extra time to do that.”

Last weekend’s sweep of a two-game series at Binghamton improved Maine to 12-1, 9-1 in America East.

The Black Bears are scheduled to resume play on Feb. 6 with the first of two home games against UMass Lowell. Focus on the River Hawks will not begin until next week. Now, Maine’s practice time is all about making a good team better.

First on Vachon’s to-do list is rebounding.

“That’s just a theme that is through and through with us right now. We have three opponents left. I’m not sure if we’ll play all of them, but every single one of them crashes the offensive boards extremely hard,” Vachon said,
In addition to UMass Lowell, the Black Bears have yet to play Stony Brook and Maryland-Baltimore County.

A postponed series against Vermont will not be made up, as the Catamounts voted last week to end their season in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak in their athletic department.

UMBC, Stony Brook and UMass Lowell are the top three offensive rebounding teams in America East. Each averages at least a dozen offensive rebounds, with UMBC averaging almost 15 (14.8). At 8.6 offensive rebounds per game, Maine is last in the conference, and the Black Bears’ overall rebound margin is minus-2.5.

Vachon said the Black Bears also will focus on fundamentals this week, as well as creating different offensive looks and making sure the team understands certain situational plays. Maine leads the conference in scoring (67.2 points) and scoring margin (14.7 points), as well as shooting percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

There’s no guarantee Maine will play its remaining six conference games, but the Black Bears have played the minimum number of games required to qualify for the NCAA tournament. America East is currently scheduling games only two weeks in advance because of the coronavirus, which means Maine’s games against Stony Brook and UMBC aren’t officially scheduled.

“They’re going to release schedules every two weeks. Everyone’s in a different boat,” Vachon said. “There are only a couple teams in our conference who have played more games than us. There are some teams that have only played six conference games. … Some teams have to play more series than there are weekends available, so they won’t get them all in. It’s really a week-by-week thing, see who’s available, see who’s not. …”

The Black Bears got a boost this past weekend with the return of sophomore guard Anna Kahelin, who played for the first time since a knee injury suffered against Vermont in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last March. Kahelin played 12 minutes in Saturday’s 67-46 win over Binghamton and seven minutes in a 70-53 victory on Sunday.

“It gives us more depth, obviously. It’s something we see as we go along. Depth is not something we’ve had over the past year,” Vachon said.

The current pause in competition due to the pandemic is just another thing for her team to overcome, Vachon said. She praised how the Black Bears have to-date stayed healthy.

“They’re 18- to 22-year-old young women. They come to practice, they go home. That’s what they do. They love it. They love basketball, and that’s why they’re doing it, but it’s hard. I’m not making excuses. I’m not complaining. It’s hard,” Vachon said. “To see what they’ve been able to accomplish in this difficult time is just incredible. I don’t think I give them enough credit. I kind of think I take it for granted sometimes.”

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