More success possible for young UMaine women’s basketball team

The University of Maine's Sigi Koizar puts up a shot over Bryant University's Alex Klein during a game last season. (BDN File)

The University of Maine’s Sigi Koizar puts up a shot over Bryant University’s Alex Klein during a game last season. (BDN File)

More overall size and athleticism could make this year’s University of Maine women’s basketball team more successful than last year’s team that lost in the America East championship game.

Eight seniors graduated off that team and this year’s squad has eight new freshmen, seven of whom are international recruits.

Maine is 5-5 in non-conference action. Senior 5-foot-8 point guard Sigi Koizar, a two-time, All-AE, first-team pick, is the only returning starter.

However, the team has some strong incoming international players: Naira Caceres (6-foot), Laia Sole (6-2) and Blanca Millan (5-11), all from Spain, along with Anita Kelava (6-3) and Tihana Stojsavljevic (6-2) of Croatia, Julie Brosseau (5-8) of Quebec, and Fanny Walding (6-1) of Sweden.

Other new players include freshman Sierra Tapley (5-8) of Bar Harbor and junior transfer Tanesha Sutton (5-10), while returning players are sophomores Maddy McVicar (5-4) of Calais and Isabel Hernandez Pepe (5-11) of Italy, junior Kirsten Johnson (6-2) of Pennsylvania and senior Sheraton Jones (5-10) of California.

Sutton should help relieve the point guard duties for Koizar and allow her to play at point wing where she will not always have to bring the ball up the court against full-court pressure. This will allow Koizar to get some rest on the court and also allow her create more on the wing when she gets the ball.

It’s really just a matter of time and patience until the new players gain the game experience in the six remaining non-conference games before league play begins in January. If they need more development time in conference games, really all that counts is to be peaking at tourney time.

Where they finish in the America East Conference regular-season standings is not as important this year as the tourney quarterfinals and semifinals are going to be at a neutral site, the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, followed by the championship game at the home of the highest seeded remaining team.

The women were chosen to finish in third place in America East Conference’s preseason coaches poll and of the 32 Division I conferences, America East was 16th in preseason rankings.

Maine is making 39.1 percent of its field goals (211 of 539) and 27.9 (57-204) on 3-pointers, while 35.9 percent of their field-goal attempts are 3-pointers. They are also shooting 65.9 percent from the foul line (81-120).

Maine has committed 14.5 turnovers per game, has averaged 13 assists per game and averages 33 rebounds a game (8 offensive, 25 defensive).

Koizar is the leading scorer at 14.5 ppg and Sole is second at 11 a game.

The Black Bears are averaging 56 points per game and giving up 59.6.

They need to improve defensively and improve their 3-point shooting.

Their half-court offense needs to set more big person screens to the ball especially when Koizar has the ball as she is very effective coming off screens. If teams switch, she is excellent at hitting the player rolling or taking the bigger player who switched onto her off the dribble. If they don’t switch, she has the open shot.

Also, by playing her as wing point it will make her dribble penetration off a live-ball situation even more effective as she is great at creating the shot for her teammates.

I like that coach Richard Barron is only playing eight players in double-figure minutes. Koizar is on the floor 36.1 minutes per game as she should be while Sole is 29.2, Sutton 27.3, Caceres 26, Millan 25.7, Kelava 14.1, Brosseau 14.1 and Wadling 12.4. Six of those players are freshmen, one is a junior and one is a senior.

These are great minutes for freshmen especially international players who will make the biggest improvement as they get used to the way the American game is coached, played and officiated.