University of Maine guard Blanca Millan looks to make a pass as Rhode Island sophomore Yanni Hendley defends during a Dec. 11 game at the Ryan Center in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Photo provided by University of Rhode Island athletics

It had been just over a year — 377 days to be exact — since Blanca Millan took the court for the University of Maine women’s basketball team. That’s 377 days to wonder if the surgery and rehabilitation to repair a torn ACL would be worth it, 377 days to let jitters fester and nerves twitch.

There were no jitters, no nerves. Fifty-eight seconds into a season-opening 62-48 victory at Providence College on Dec. 10, Millan — a fifth year senior guard — hit her first shot of the season. It was obvious that she was the same cool Millan the Black Bears had come to know over the last four seasons.

“I wasn’t really nervous. I don’t get nervous before games, because I just go out and do what I love,” Millan said Tuesday afternoon in a Zoom interview with media. “It was definitely a special moment. I’ve been waiting for so long. Since I got hurt I’ve been counting the days to come back and play,”

The 2019 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Millan scored 30 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the season-opening victory at Providence. The following night, Millan powered the Black Bears past the University of Rhode Island, 61-47, finishing with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Millan earned America East Player of the Week honors for the ninth time in her career.

UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said it was just Blanca being Blanca.

“I’ve been seeing it for a while. Someone asked me the other day if it surprised me,” she said. “It didn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen it in practice ever since we started. We talk about how special Blanca is. She’s been waiting to put that uniform back on for a long time. What we saw this weekend, it just shows what we’ll see the rest of the year.”

Before tearing her ACL in a game against Arizona State on Nov. 29, 2019, Millan was on pace to end her career among the top players in program history in a number of categories. If Millan stays healthy and Maine can get in a full season during the COVID-19 pandemic, she’ll almost certainly become the fifth player to score 2,000 career points in program history. Millan has 184 career 3-pointers after sinking four over the weekend, leaving her just 35 shy of tying Cindy Blodgett’s career record (219). Millan made 61 3-pointers in 2018-19, her last full season.

University of Maine guard Blanca Millan keeps her eyes on the ball during a game at the University of Rhode Island on Dec. 11. Millan, a fifth-year senior, scored 12 points in the victory. Photo provided by University of Rhode Island athletics

Millan does the little, gritty things in basketball games that often go unnoticed by everyone but coaches and teammates, Vachon said.

“She’s not going to score 30 every night. That’s not her M.O. or anything. What she wants the most is (for) our team to win. If you would’ve watched the game at Rhode Island, things that go unnoticed,” Vachon said. “They were on her like crazy, and she set some really good screens. Abbe Laurence got, I think three or four wide open layups because of Blanca’s screens. Things like that, just having her on the court, it’s nice. I’m not going to lie. It’s nice to have her back.”

Added Millan: “I don’t care about scoring as long as we win. If I have to play defense or guard the best player on the other team, make them not score, then I’m going to do it. The little things always help our team a lot.”

Millan played just six games last season. Now, she’s developing an on-court relationship with teammates who picked up the slack last season when Millan and other veterans, including fifth year senior Fanny Wadling, were out with injuries. She’s also further developing her rapport with sophomore Anne Simon, the America East Rookie of the Year last season. From her spot on the bench last season, the injured Millan paid attention.

“Watching them definitely helped me. I learned what they like to do, where they like to be. When I’m on the court, I try to put them in that spot, and they try to put me in where I like to be,” Millan said. “It wasn’t hard to get back with them, because we’re so close on and off the court that we never lost that chemistry we have. We always had that connection. I know they’re happy I’m back, and I’m obviously happy to be back.

We play for each other. We love to share the ball. We’ve been practicing since August. We know when we execute we can be a very good team, and it’s very hard to guard us because we have great players. It felt really good. It’s only the first two games, so I know we have so much more we can accomplish. If we keep working, we can be a great team.”

Next up for the Black Bears is a stretch of three games in four days, beginning with a non-conference game at Northeastern in Boston on Sunday afternoon before the America East openers at Hartford on Tuesday and Wednesday.

University of Maine senior guard Kelly Fogarty makes a pass to Blanca Millan during a Dec. 11 game against the University of Rhode Island at the Ryan Center in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Photo provided by University of Rhode Island athletics

“I think it’s going to make our conference more competitive, because playing the same team twice is never easy,” Millan said.

Vachon said Wadling, who missed last week’s games, has been cleared to play and should be back. Senior forward Maeve Carroll should also return shortly from injury while sophomore guard Anna Kahelin — who suffered a knee injury in March’s conference playoff win over Vermont — is on track to return in mid-January. Playing three games in four days is not daunting, Vachon said. Neither is the prospect of playing the season on the road, as the University of Maine’s limit on crowd sizes over 50 prohibits the Black Bears from hosting a game.

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter to us. We’ve been on the road a lot,” she said. “It’s not foreign to us. Especially with no fans at home. We love to play at home, the fans really make it. With no fans, it is what it is. We’re fortunate to be playing right now, and we understand that. Would we like to sleep in our own beds? Of course we would, but beggars can’t be choosers, and we’re not going to choose. We’re going to play as many times as we can, wherever we can.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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