The Maine Black Bears finish up the tail end of a two-game road swing as the team travels to Hartford, Conn., to take on No. 13 UConn at the XL Center on Friday evening. Maine tips off against the 8-0 Huskies at 7 p.m. before heading home for a two-game slate starting next weekend.
LAST TIME OUT
The Black Bears were led by their junior leadership as both Zarko Valjarevic and Xavier Pollard recorded 19 and 18 points, respectively, but Maine men's basketball dropped to 1-6 on the year with a 81-72 loss at NJIT on Wednesday night. NJIT improved to 5-4 overall as they sweep the season series between the two teams, going 2-0 in the home-and-home.
Maine was at one point down by 20 points, midway through the second half but battled back, going on a 28-13 run, to cut the deficit to five points with just over a minute remaining.
Pollard sparked the team in his return to the starting lineup as he recorded the Black Bear's first double-double of the year, scoring 18 points and pulling down 11 boards.
Meanwhile Valjarevic flourished from beyond the arc, shooting 50 percent (5-of-10) to aid his 19 point performance.
NJIT got huge efforts from Terrence Smith and Damon Lynn in the victory. Smith led the team with 22 points while Lynn wasn't too far behind, recording 19 of his own.
The Black Bears finished the game shooting 36 percent and allowed NJIT to hit on 47 percent from the field. Meanwhile the Highlanders got the best of the glass taking down 46 rebounds to Maine's 32.
The No. 12 team in the country comes into the contest a perfect 8-0 coming off a thrilling 65-64 win over Florida on Monday. Second year head coach Kevin Ollie has his alma mater off to its best start since the 2010-11 season with their unblemished record.
UConn is led in several categories by Shabazz Napier as the senior guard paces the Huskies in points per game (16.4), steals per game (1.8), rebounds per game (7.3) and assists per game (5.6).
The Huskies also have two more players averaging double-digit points as DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright average 13.5 and 11.4, respectively.
As a team the Huskies are outscoring their opponents by 12 points per game on average, coming in with 76 points per game while allowing 64 points per contest. They've achieved that success by maintaining an impressive .449 from beyond the arc and shooting .485 from the field.
They've struggled rebounding the basketball early on this year as they come into the contest with a -0.7 rebounding margin but it hasn't effected the squad in the win column.
This will be the 99th meeting between these two squads with the Huskies maintaining an 82-16 margin over the Black Bears.
The Huskies have won the last 11 contests dating back to 1978 when the Black Bears defeated UConn, 79-73, in Storrs, Conn.
This series began in the early part of the 1900's as the Black Bears dropped the inaugural contest between the two squads by a whopping score of 21-16 away from Orono, Maine.
While the Black Bears have been on television before in 2013-14, the team will have a chance to play in front of a national audience as Maine's game against UConn, will carried on ESPN3. The online streaming service provided by ESPN Inc., delivers both live streams and replays of global sports events. You can find the event by going to:
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
The Black Bears have gotten off to a 1-6 start so far this year, and in order to turn it around the Black Bears need to improve in several categories. Here is how the stats suggest the Black Bears turn it around
• Improve first half shooting: The Black Bears have struggled out of the gate when it comes to shooting percentage. Maine has shot under 30 percent in the first frame, three times this season (Both games against NJIT and Quinnipiac). They need to improve that number as the team is 0-6 when trailing at halftime.
• Rebounding, rebounding rebounding: Maine's Achilles heal so far this season has been cleaning up the glass. They've been outrebounded six times this year and its no surprise that all six of those games went into the loss column. The team needs to improve their boards-margin (-10.6) in order to come away with wins.
• Improve from the stripe: Maine also needs to improve from the free throw line as they maintain a .608 percentage from the stripe. Meanwhile opponents are hitting .747 of their free throw chances. Maine is 0-6 so far when their opponent makes more free throws.
DISHING IT OUT
The Black Bears have excelled with assists both in past years and this season. The Black Bears enter the contest with 15.3 assists per game. Coming into the week the Black Bears were tied for 52nd in the country in assists per game with the likes of Memphis and Oregon State. Shaun Lawton has been the primary assist leader for the Black Bears as he leads the squad with 31 (5.16 apg).
Xavier Pollard recorded the team's first double-double of the season as he recorded 18 points and 11 rebounds in the team's second meeting against NJIT. It's the first double-double since last season when Pollard scored 15 points and 12 assists vs.
Siena (11/25/12), while it's the last points/rebound double-double since Troy Barnies accomplished the feat against New Hampshire on Jan. 25, 2011. This was Pollard's second career double-double.
The Black Bears are taking time this non-conference season to get to know their lineup. Through seven games the Black Bears have sent out six different starting lineups with the only repeat starting five coming against NJIT on Dec. 4, as the Black Bears put out the starting five they began with in the season opener. Some of this is due to an injury to Xavier Pollard, suffered earlier in the year, otherwise nine different Black Bears have seen the starting lineup.
The Black Bears are midway through what has been a challenging non-conference slate and it doesn't look to get any easier for Maine. The combined record of the 11 teams the squad faces before getting into America East play is 53-29 so far this season and has a .646 win percentage. In those 11 teams only one DI team has a record below .500 (Army 1-5).
RANKING THE BLACK BEARS
While the Black Bears have struggled against a tough non-conference slate so far, Maine does rank fairly highly in many categories, in both the NCAA and the America East conference.
NCAA Rankings (Coming into the week/as of Dec. 2)
• Shaun Lawton moved up to 23rd in the nation in steals per game with 2.60, was previously 32nd.
America East Rankings (Coming into the week/as of Dec. 2)
• Maine is the No. 2 scoring offense in the conference with 78.0 points per game while they rank as the league's ninth scoring defense letting up 90.0 ppg.
• Maine ranks fourth in the league in field goal percentage with a .447 mark
• The Black Bears are second in the America East in 3-pointer defense limiting opponents to .325 from beyond the arc.
• Maine ranks No.1 in assists (15.5 apg), No. 2 in steals per game (8.0), No. 3 in turnover margin (-0.33) and first assist/turnover ratio (1.2)
• Dimitry Akanda-Coronel is third in the league in scoring with 17.3 ppg.
• Shaun Lawton is both 2nd in the AE in assists (4.8) and first in steals (2.6).
• Zarko Valjarevic is 2nd in the conference in 3-pointers made per game with 2.7 per contest.
• Garet Beal is tops in the conference in assist/turnover ratio through five games with a 2.1 ratio as he averages 3.0 assists per game and 1.4 turnovers per game.