Improved defense, rebounding help UMaine win tournament title


BANGOR, Maine — Maine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron is confident that his team’s offense is going to work through some early-season inconsistencies.

In the meantime, Barron said an emphasis on defense and rebounding is helping to bridge the gap.

That was the case during the weekend as the Black Bears posted back-to-back victories against Brown (58-53) and Boston College (69-64, overtime) to win the Black Bear Thanksgiving Classic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

The three best teams we’ve played this year have been the last three teams we’ve played.
— Richard Barron

UMaine held Brown to 53 points on Saturday afternoon, then limited the Eagles to 64 points in 45 minutes on Sunday after Boston College had scored 90 in Friday’s overtime win against Brown.

“The three best teams we’ve played this year have been the last three teams we’ve played,” said Barron, whose team is 3-3 heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. nonleague contest at Central Connecticut State.

In each of its past two games, UMaine has made the necessary defensive adjustments to overcome its opponents. That is especially true of its efforts protecting the 3-point arc as BC and Brown combined to shoot only 28 percent overall, and 23 percent in the second half, from long range.

“What’s kept us in the game has been our defense and much improved rebounding,” Barron said.

“The biggest key in the [Boston College] game for me is our defending the 3-point line in the second half,” he added.

The Bears also have demonstrated a more determined effort in the rebounding action. They afforded BC and Brown only nine second-chance points combined, holding their own against a much taller Eagles team.

“They’re a big team. They outsized us in a lot of positions but I thought we did a good job boxing out for the most part,” said junior Liz Wood. “I think that was a big key for us.”

Meanwhile, the Black Bears have not yet established its desired effectiveness at the offensive end.

That doesn’t mean the Bears aren’t making gains.

Wood and sophomore guard Sigi Koizar were the offensive catalysts in the Thanksgiving Classic. Wood averaged 20.5 points en route to the tourney MVP honor and Koizar netted 14 points per game, including 22 in the title game, to gain all-tournament recognition.

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Koizar is Maine’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg).

Barron has turned up the heat a bit on Koizar, a former Stearns High School exchange student from Austria, who has a knack for providing a spark when her team needs it the most. He has high expectations for a versatile guard like Koizar.

“I was on her pretty hard at halftime [on Sunday], and she did a great job responding,” Barron said.

Koizar is UMaine’s leading scorer, averaging 14.8 points on 50 percent shooting while providing 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Wood is averaging 13.8 points and leads the team in rebounding (5.2 per game), assists (3.3) and steals (2.2).

Even so, with 10 or 11 players making regular contributions, there have been some chemistry and consistency issues.

“When our offense catches up to where our defense is right now, we’re going to be pretty good,” Barron said. “Our offense is off just a little bit in terms of timing, decision-making and just knocking down shots.”

Wood said UMaine’s performance in the tournament helped the Black Bears gain some confidence, especially on offense.

“I think we definitely gained momentum from this tournament, not so much from the fact that we won but the fact that we’re starting to play more like us,” Wood said. “I think that’s really encouraging for us, just to get into a flow of our offense.”