University of Maine’s Blanca Millan is greeted by fans as she enters the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor prior to a 2019 preseason game against Stonehill College. Millan scored a game-high 30 points in the Black Bears’ season-opening win over Providence on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

That was worth the wait.

The University of Maine women’s basketball team’s season was expected to begin two weeks ago against Mississippi State at Mohegan Sun Arena. But that tournament was canceled, and UMaine paused its athletic programs for two weeks. Instead, the Black Bears opened the season Thursday afternoon at Providence, which had played six games already this season.

 

The Black Bears have done nothing but practice since August. Some rust, particularly against an opponent from a strong conference like the Big East, was to be expected.

Rust? What rust?

Maine took a 62-48 win, answering every Providence run with one of its own. The Black Bears scored the first eight points of the game, led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, then opened the fourth with another 8-0 run to lock down the impressive win.

This was a game that showed off the depth Maine developed playing through injuries last season, especially since a pair of key seniors, forwards Maeve Carroll and Fanny Wadling, sat out with injuries. Wadling is expected back next week, and Carroll soon after, head coach Amy Vachon said.

The biggest takeaway from Thursday’s win is senior Blanca Millan is showing no signs of still being slowed by the ACL tear she suffered just over a year ago, in a loss to Arizona State on Nov. 29, 2019. This was Millan’s first game back from the injury. All she did was score a game-high 30 points on 13 for 25 shooting, and grab a game-high 14 rebounds. Millan played 37 minutes in her return, and her 3-pointer to open the scoring 58 seconds into the game set the tone for the day. Millan was the America East Conference Player of the Year in 2019. With the effort in Thursday’s season opener, it’s not too early to call Millan the front runner for the award again.

With Wadling and Carroll out, 6-foot-2 sophomore Abbe Laurence gave the Black Bears 26 strong minutes in the post, scoring 10 points with nine rebounds. Anne Simon, last season’s conference rookie of the year, added nine points and seven boards.

Defensively, Maine held the Friars to 33.9 percent (19 for 56) from the field. Providence lost leading scorer Mary Baskerville to an injury in the first half, but considering the Black Bears played the game without two starters, they’ll call that unfortunate and move on. Injuries happen. No team knows that like Maine, which played a conference semifinal game last season, the final game of the season before the Covid-19 pandemic shut the sports world down, with just eight players.

With every game, nothing is perfect. So let’s nitpick. Free throws were a problem for the Black Bears, who made just 6 of 12 from the line. Maine’s free throw percentage has steadily improved over the last four seasons, from 66 percent in 2016-17 to 76 percent last season, so let’s call Thursday’s struggles just one of those things. In a closer game, and there will be plenty of those, 50 percent at the line could be the difference between a win and a loss. There’s no doubt Vachon stressed that to her team after the game.

It’s one game, but it’s a good sign for a Maine team that has potential to be one of the best in the program’s history. The Black Bears conclude this brief trip to Rhode Island with a game at the University of Rhode Island on Friday night. The Black Bears waited so long to start this season, and know it could end at any time if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak at UMaine. If they continue to put forth the effort they showed Thursday, the Black Bears will make this season a successful one, no matter how long it lasts.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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