The first semester was, to put it mildly, a tough one for the University of Maine at Augusta men’s basketball team. The Moose were 1-15 before the break, including a 1-6 record in the Yankee Small College Conference.

But with Tevon Erwin returning from injuries and a couple significant additions, UMA is now deeper and playing noticeably better. The Moose are currently 4-7 in conference play, and they’re in seventh place. The top eight teams qualify for the Elite 8 tournament in late February.

“One of the things is we’ve gone to a much stronger and improved man-to-man defense,” UMA coach Jim Ford said. “When I go back to where the season turned around (was) a couple weeks ago, we made the long ride up to Vermont to play Vermont Tech (for a 79-70 win), and it was kind of an upset at that point.”

Junior Brandon Rogers is averaging 19.3 points per game, and leads the entire United States Collegiate Athletic Association in rebounding at 12.5 per night. Clinton native and Lawrence graduate Keith Chesley is second on the team in both categories (14.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg).

One of the important newcomers from the second semester is former Cony point guard Robert Foss. His arrival not only gives UMA an experienced ball-handler, but allowed Jesse Smith (13.8 ppg) to move to his natural position of shooting guard, and Smith has hit some huge 3-pointers.

“(Robert’s) been invaluable, giving us, for the first time this season, a true point guard,” Ford said.

Erwin is averaging 14.8 points and 3.5 assists per game in January. He missed 10 games in the first semester with knee and hip issues.

“He’s playing courageously right now, because he’s hurting,” Ford said. “He knows how important these games are for us, and he’s trying to salvage his season. He can be the wild card for us.”

Garrett Alley and Erskine grad Caleb McGuire are averaging a combined 9.4 rebounds per game. Nick Moody of Madison, a newcomer for the second semester, has played a total of 25 minutes over the last three games, but Ford envisions him eventually playing a bigger role.

“Nick is going to get more and more time as he gets used to our system,” Ford said.

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The Southern Maine Community College women’s basketball team is 14-5 this season, and 10-1 in the YSCC. Skowhegan grad Jaimi Poland and Mt. Blue grad Zyrah Giustra have both helped the Seawolves this winter.

Poland, a junior, is averaging 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.

“Jaimi is rare in the sense that she’s pretty versatile,” SMCC coach Julia Howe said. “She’s 5-6, but she’s more comfortable playing a post position.”

Howe said Poland played mostly guard during the first semester, but has moved into the starting lineup as a forward since the break. Over the last two games — both SMCC wins — Poland is averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.

“She’s just been aggressively attacking the rim, going to the free throw line,” Howe said.

In addition to basketball, Poland takes classes and has a waitressing job. One quirk in her schedule is that, as a cardiovascular technology major, she has classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“All the kids hate her for that,” Howe joked.

Giustra, of New Sharon, didn’t play high school basketball in either her junior or senior year. She played soccer as a freshman this fall at SMCC, and happened to mention to the athletic trainer that she used to play basketball. Word of that got to Howe, who arranged a meeting and gave Giustra some time to decide whether she wanted to play basketball again.

“She came back in the next day, and was like, ‘I want to do it,’” Howe said.

Giustra has played in 18 of SMCC’s 19 games. She’s averaging 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game, and has gained a reputation as a solid, tenacious defender.

“She is a great teammate — always making people laugh, always in a good mood,” Howe said. “She is a great, great part of the team.”

In a recent 69-61 win over UMaine-Augusta, SMCC used nine players, and all nine played between 15 and 32 minutes. That and a defense that is averaging 14.2 steals per game have been big reasons for the Seawolves success.

“We play a pretty up-tempo game,” Howe said. “By the end of games, we’ve tired teams out, and can take advantage in transition.”

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Oak Hill grad Maggie Sabine is in her first season at St. Michael’s after starring for the women’s basketball team at Central Maine Community College. Sabine started off slowly, but has made a big leap forward since late December.

Over her first nine games this season, Sabine averaged 4.3 points per game, never scoring more than six in any contest. In Sabine’s last seven games, she is averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

Sabine’s biggest game was her most recent one. In a 71-66 loss, Sabine finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds in 34 minutes of play.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243mdifilippo@centralmaine.comTwitter: @Matt_DiFilippo