BANGOR — With nothing but America East Conference games the remainder of the regular season, we can say this about the University of Maine women’s basketball team: They do not give away games.

Through 17 games, the Black Bears have 195 turnovers, an average of just 11.5 per game. That puts Maine among the best teams in the nation when it comes to protecting the basketball. The Black Bears are a convoy of armored trucks.

“Each possession, just trying to take care of the ball. I think about it,” senior Tanesha Sutton said after Saturday’s game against Albany, a 76-65 Maine win.

Entering Saturday afternoon’s game, the Black Bears were sixth in the nation in turnovers per game. They were 14th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio, with 1.33 assists for every turnover. To put it simply, the Black Bears are more likely to set up a teammate for an open shot than the opponent.

Against Albany, Maine had 11 turnovers, just under their per game average, and 19 assists, approximately four better than their average. Three of Maine’s turnovers came in an uncharacteristically sloppy minute late in the third quarter, as Albany began a run that would cut the Black Bears’ lead from 24 points to six.

Point guard Dor Saar had seven assists in the win over Albany, with just two turnovers. One of those turnovers came with 3:57 to play in the second quarter, when Saar was called for traveling as she drove the lane. Twenty-seven seconds later, undeterred by her error on the previous possession, Saar attacked the lane again. This time, as a Great Dane defender stepped up to block her way, Saar made a perfect bounce pass to Blanca Millan, who was cutting to the basket on the baseline. Easy layup, Black Bears up 11.

In Wednesday’s 63-51 win at Vermont, the Black Bears turned the ball over a measley three times. Three. There are coaches who would call that an excellent quarter. Maine has finished a game with more turnovers than assists twice so far this season. Each game was a loss, a 70-39 lopsided game at Wisconsin-Green Bay, and an overtime loss at Fordham. In a three-point loss to Duke, Maine had 16 assists and 16 turnovers.

You take care of the ball, and you make the opponent work harder to score. Albany scored just eight points off Maine turnovers Saturday, while the Black Bears scored 22 points off Great Dane giveaways. Even with Albany making a fourth quarter run to cut Maine’s lead to six points, the Black Bears didn’t gift wrap points to the Great Danes, and that was a difference in the game. On Wednesday, Vermont managed four points off Maine turnovers. With that in mind, it’s not surprising Maine pulled away late for the double digit win.

Prior to the Vermont game, Maine’s best turnover margin games came against North Carolina (24 assists, 11 turnovers) and Brown (26 assists, eight turnovers). Maine outscored Brown 28-15 on points off turnovers, and that made a difference in a 102-96 overtime win. At UNC, the Black Bears scored 24 points off turnovers. The Tar Heels scored 14. Maine won, 85-73.

Take care of the basketball and good things happen. It’s simple, but without discipline, it’s easier said than done. For the Black Bears, it’s a staple of play, and if they win a second straight America East title and a spot in the NCAA tournament, it will be a big reason why.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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