Dor Saar has been a workhorse this season for the University of Maine women's basketball team. The junior point guard from Israel ranks second in the country in minutes played and has been a strong leader for the Black Bears. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

Dor Saar has put the University of Maine women’s basketball team on her shoulders this season.

The junior point guard was already a leader handling the ball and directing the offense for the Black Bears.

But when 2019 America East Player and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan suffered a season-ending knee injury, and league rebounding leader Fanny Wadling was shelved for the season by a concussion, her responsibilities increased.

The Israeli, the only available returning starter from last season, has been a fixture both literally and figuratively. On Tuesday, she was recognized as an All-AE second-team selection.

None of the other returning players had averaged more than 18.7 minutes per game of playing time. Saar has guided UMaine (16-14) to a second-place finish in America East (12-4) and the Black Bears take an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 7 Vermont at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“Dor has grown leaps and bounds as a leader,” UMaine coach Amy Vachon said. “She has always had a high basketball IQ. She has had a fabulous season.”

At 5-foot-6, Saar has been a workhorse. She ranks No. 2 in the country in minutes played (1,171) and in minutes per game (39.04).

“She has been amazing,” said UMaine freshman guard Anne Simon, who was named the America East Rookie of the Year. “I have learned a lot from her. She plays 40 minutes a game, never gets tired and never complains. She pushes all of us and makes everyone better.”

Despite the physical and mental grind, Saar has been the glue that holds the team together.

She is averaging 12.1 points and three rebounds per game, both of which are career highs. Her 4.9 assists per game match last season’s production.

Saar has played at least 40 minutes (a full game) for the last 15 games. She admitted that she does get tired occasionally.

“I love playing basketball. It’s my whole life. When I get tired, I shake it off,” Saar said. “Whether I play 40 minutes or two minutes, I just want to do what the team needs.”

That selflessness and dedication are key traits for Saar, whose role was magnified with the loss of Millan and Wadling.

She knew she would have to step up in terms of her production and with her leadership role and communication. Saar knows that is part of her job.

“Part of your job as a point guard is not just focusing on your game and your own goals, It’s making sure everyone else is playing well,” she said. “You have to put your ego on the side and be there for your team.”

Senior guard Maddy McVicar said Saar has always been a leader on the court but she has also developed as a leader in other aspects.

“She has been vocal when we need her to be. She is the definition of a team player,” McVicar said.

Saar’s efforts have been pivotal while setting the standard for a team that wound up short on experience because of all its injuries. UMaine has only nine healthy players.

The setbacks never negatively affected her confidence.

“I know a lot of people doubted us but I never doubted our abilities,” said Saar, whose 401 career assists ranks fifth in UMaine history and leads active America East players.

“We have great players. It was just a matter of time to get to the point where we are now,” Saar said.

The Black Bears have been inspired by Saar’s determination and upbeat approach.

“She works so hard and wants to do so well that she gave us all confidence to keep pushing,” said junior forward Maeve Carroll. “We knew how well we could play if we worked hard.”

Saar is second in the league in assists but ranks first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and is fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (.345).

The 2018 America East Rookie of the Year, who was a third-team pick last season, said she is proud of her teammates and their growth this season.

“Everyone has done a real good job and we have even more to play for. That’s why we’re looking forward to the [Vermont] game,” Saar said of a team for which UMaine has much respect.

Vermont trailed the Black Bears by only five points going into the fourth quarter of UMaine’s 70-59 win in Bangor on Feb. 5.

“The last game was close until the last five minutes. It’s a good match-up. We have to make sure we’re ready,” Saar said.