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 competition until at least Feb. 4 is at worst a minor inconvenience for the women’s basketball team. A bye week originally scheduled for next weekend, Feb. 6-7, is now this weekend. For head 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 Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

This past weekend’s sweep of a two-game series at Binghamton improved Maine to 12-1, 9-1 in America East play. For now, the Black Bears are scheduled to resume play on Feb. 6 with the first of two home games against UMass-Lowell. Focus on the Riverhawks 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,

The Black Bears have UMass-Lowell, Stony Brook and Maryland-Baltimore County left to play. 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. In UMBC, Stony Brook and UMass-Lowell, the Black Bears would face the top three offensive rebounding teams in America East. Each averaged at least a dozen offensive boards per game 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 boards per game.

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 per game) and scoring margin (14.7 points), as well as shooting percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

There’s no guarantee Maine plays those remaining six conference games, but no matter what happens, the Black Bears are in a good spot. They’ve played 13 games, the minimum required by the NCAA to qualify for the tournament this season. With 10 conference games played, Maine has played more America East games than much of the league. Albany and UMBC each have played just six conference games. As of now, nothing is scheduled beyond next week’s two-game series against UMass-Lowell.

“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. It’s not going to be a this is your schedule for the rest of the year kind of thing.”

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 the Bearcats, and added seven minutes in Sunday’s 70-53 victory.

“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 of Kahelin’s return.

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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