BANGOR — Right now, junior point guard Dor Saar is the constant for the University of Maine women’s basketball team. With senior guard Blanca Millan out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and senior forward Fanny Wadling out for the season recovering from a preseason concussion, an unexpected on-court leadership hole, the kind a season could fall into and be lost, unexpectedly opened.

When captains met with officials before the game, it was Saar representing the Black Bears. It’s a year earlier than anticipated, but this is Saar’s team now.

Maine opened America East Conference play Thursday at the Cross Insurance Center against Hartford. It was a rematch of the last two conference championship games, but only on paper. A combination of Maine’s injuries and a 40-grit non-conference schedule left the Black Bears with a 4-10 record entering Thursday’s game. Hartford came to Maine with an 0-13 record.

As point gyard, Saar is a leader by default. Saar knows she has to take on more.

“I know my role as a point guard is very important. I just have to keep leading the team, call the right plays, and just talk to the players,” Saar said following Maine’s 87-73 win over Hartford. Saar finished the game with seven points and 11 assists with just one turnover.

“She’s working really hard on that,” Maine coach Amy Vachon, a former Black Bear point guard herself, said regarding Saar’s developing leadership. “She’s trying to do it a lot of different ways. The last couple games, her turnovers have been costly for us. So for her to make that change and see that, it’s great.”

Without Millan and Wadling, somebody has to step up for Maine. Freshman Anne Simon shows promise and could be the next great Black Bear, but is still young. Saar is the veteran, the savvy point guard. Saar scored a career-high 30 points in a 61-60 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 13 and averages 10.7 points per game, just over a point per game better than last season.

The Black Bears defeated Hartford in each of the last two conference championship games. Maine took a 68-48 win over Hartford last March to win the America East crown. A year earlier, the Black Bears beat the Hawks, 74-65, pulling away in the third quarter. The thing Maine had in both those games the Black Bears missed on Thursday night, of course, was Millan and Wadling.

In the 2017 conference final, Millan and Wadling combined for 32 points, eight rebounds and five steals. Last season, Millan and Wadling combined for 29 points, 19 rebounds and six steals in Maine’s 20-point victory.

Saar has had all of the regular season so far to get used to not seeing Wadling in the post. Wadling’s season-ending injury occurred in an exhibition game against McGill. Millan tore her ACL in a Nov. 29 game against Arizona State. Thursday’s game was Maine’s ninth without last season’s conference player of the year.

Millan and Wadling spent the game not catching crisp passes from Saar but on the Black Bears bench in street clothes. Millan sat in the first row of the stands behind the Maine bench, the crutches necessary since her recent knee surgery parked at her side. The only time Wadling saw the court was in pregame warmups, when she made passes to her teammates as they prepped to face the Hawks.

A new lineup doesn’t change Saar’s job description much, save for a slight increase in the scoring load. She still has to find teammates open for a shot. Saar did that early against Hartford. Before the game was two minutes old, Saar drove the lane, drawing Hawk defenders before firing a pass to Kelly Fogarty in the corner. Fogarty nailed the 3-pointer.

Saar also picked up two quick fouls, and in doing so, earned some time on the bench. That’s a rarity these days. Coach Amy Vachon has come to count on Saar being a fixture on the court. As of Dec. 31, Saar ranked second in the nation in total minutes played this season, and was 10th in the nation in minutes per game, with 37.89. Five times this season Saar has played all 40 minutes, including three of Maine’s last four games.

“That was my bad. I can’t get two fouls at the beginning of the game,” Saar said.

Against Hartford, Saar played the first 2:37 of the first quarter, and sat the rest of the quarter before returning for the start of the second. Her presence helped Maine build some breathing room in what was a tie game after one quarter. Early in the second, Saar got the ball on the baseline, out near the 3-point line, made one move, and went by a Hartford defender for an easy layup. Later in the quarter, Saar made a steal, and dropped to the court to hang on to the ball. She was fouled, and made one of two free throws to push Maine’s lead to 10 points, 35-25.

Saar played most of the second quarter, as is her style. The Black Bears made 14 shots from the floor in the first half, and Saar assisted on five of them. Surrounded by young teammates, Saar knows the best way to lead is to do everything she can to make them better.

With Saar on the court in the first half, the Black Bears were plus-19 over the Hawks. When you’re looking for signs of leadership, that’s the biggest one.

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