Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Black Bears (14-7, 6-2) at Vermont (15-8, 6-3)

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
Patrick Gym, Burlington, Vt.

First meeting: Catamounts 64, Black Bears 56 ... Vermont broke away late at Orono in the America East opener for both clubs.

After a three-game slide, Vermont bounced back and thumped Albany Saturday. Meanwhile, the big question for UMaine is; Will the Black Bears bounce back after a lackluster home loss to UMBC?

Vermont has the league's top player in forward Marqus Blakely. Blakely is a rare commodity at the low-major level of Division 1: He can hurt opponents in a multitude of areas. He scores, rebounds, passes and defends. Cut him off in any one area and he'll just turn to something else. He doesn't force his game. He just dominates.

Guard Maurice Joseph and forward Evan Fjeld are his top cohorts.

Black Bears enter second half of league season in position to finish well above the expectations of America East coaches. UMaine has scored less than 60 points in 11 of its 21 games. Will that lack of offense come to roost down the stretch? Or will the team's defensive ability continue to produce low-scoring victories?

History is clear on one thing when it comes to the America East Conference and its post-season tournament: The high seeds have a huge advantage.

If that isn't motivation enough to get the Black Bears emotionally ready for each and every opponent, then nothing will.

The stretch drive to Hartford and the 2010 conference tourney begins Wednesday.

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