Dor Saar advances down the court against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County during an American East quarterfinal game at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)
Looking for a weakness on the University of Maine women’s basketball team?
Don’t look at the Black Bears’ freshman point guard.
When Maine played New Hampshire in the America East semifinals on Sunday, some wondered whether Dor Saar would be able to handle the pressure.
Maine’s first basket came on a one-handed Saar pass through traffic for a Fanny Wadling layup. Saar ended up with five assists and masterfully guided the Black Bears’ offense.
“With her on the floor, things are calm,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said.
The Black Bears need more tranquility Friday when they play for the conference championship, and a berth in the NCAA tournament, against Hartford.
Maine (22-9) is the top seed and favorite, especially playing on its home court at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
But sixth-seeded Hartford (19-12) is on a five-game winning streak, including postseason upsets over No. 3 Binghamton and No. 2 Albany.
“When we come to play, the way we’re supposed to play, we can beat any team in this conference,” Hartford coach Kim McNeill said.
The Hawks’ specialty is an aggressive defense. They have forced an average of 23.5 turnovers during their winning streak.
That is where the 5-foot-6 Saar is so important.
“Dor definitely has to have a (good) game,” Vachon said. “Hartford is a team that puts a lot of pressure on you … and we didn’t do a good job of handling it last time.”
When Maine beat the Hawks in Hartford in January, Maine made only nine turnovers and won 59-44.
On Feb. 5 in Bangor, the Black Bears lost the ball 28 times — including seven turnovers by Saar – and needed a last-minute comeback for a 59-56 win.
Vachon is not worried about Saar, who averaged only 2.2 turnovers a game. She also averages 5.9 points and three assists and has improved her defense — leading to America East Rookie of the Year honors.
Saar has shown she’s not afraid of the big stage.
“She’s really a special kid,” Vachon said. “She’s played at high levels on her national team with Israel. Playing big games is not abnormal for her. She loves the spotlight. She thrives on it.”
Saar stood out on her age-group team in international tournaments. That’s where then-Maine coach Richard Barron saw her, and the recruiting began.
Even with the coaching situation uncertain this year, with Vachon initially the interim coach while Barron was on medical leave, Saar wanted to be in Orono. (Vachon has since been promoted to head coach, with Barron taking over the men’s program).
“I know both (Barron and Vachon), so it didn’t matter to me. I knew I would be in good hands,” Saar said.
After playing in tournaments, such as the European championships, she was ready for college competition.
“I don’t know if (college) is harder, but it’s different,” she said.
This is her first college postseason, obviously, but Saar shows no fear.
When she was asked if she ever gets nervous, Saar looked surprised at the question.
“No, not at all. These are the most exciting games,” she said. “We practice all year for these moments, so you go out and have fun.”
Dor Saar of the University of Maine drives inside the key against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County during an American East quarterfinal game at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)Dor Saar of the University of Maine and Brittani Burgess of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County battle for a rebound during an American East quarterfinal game at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)