University of Maine women's basketball player Alba Orois, a sophomore point guard, is one of the top players in the conference in assists and minutes played. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

New Jersey Institute of Technology head coach Mike Lane said University of Maine sophomore point guard Alba Orois is fun to watch.

“But she is horrible to play against and a nightmare to game plan for,” said a grinning Lane following his team’s 67-59 overtime win over UMaine on Sunday.

“She is so quick. She is the heir apparent to Dor [Saar]. She’s tough,” Lane said of Orois, who finished with 15 points, four assists and four steals against the Highlanders.

When Saar decided to transfer to Middle Tennessee State, Orois took over as the team’s point guard this season after averaging just 16 minutes of playing time as a freshman last year.

And she has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

The 19-year-old from Mollet del Valles, Spain, is currently leading America East in assists per game at 4.9. That is nearly a full assist more than her closest pursuer, Binghamton’s Denai Bowman (4.1).

Orois is 53rd in the country among 348 teams in assists per game.

She also leads the conference in minutes played at 38.3 per game and that is sixth most in the nation.

“I do get tired at the end of games but [strength and conditioning coach] Matt Peyton has helped me out a lot. I’m in real good shape,” Orois said.

“We need her on the court the entire game. She is our rock,” said UMaine graduate student forward Maeve Carroll.

Orois was turnover-prone earlier this season but has shown dramatic improvement in recent weeks. After committing 38 turnovers in her first eight games, she has committed just four over the last four contests while dishing out 22 assists. She had two games without a single turnover.

“I turned the ball over a lot and I wasn’t happy about it. When you’re the point guard, it’s really important not to turn the ball over. So I focused on it and I’ve improved on it,” Orois said.

University of Maine women’s basketball player Alba Orois, a sophomore point guard, is one of the top players in the conference in assists and minutes played. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

“She has been doing a great job. She is getting more comfortable with the offense so she can do a lot of different things now,” said UMaine head coach Amy Vachon, a former Black Bear point guard who holds the school record for career assists with 759.

The slender, 5-foot-7 Orois is also averaging 9.8 points per game and her 46.1 percent shooting percentage from the floor is best among the UMaine regulars.

“She is so quick and very talented,” said NJIT junior guard Kenna Squier. “She can score the three or the two.”

There was a lot of pressure on Orois coming into the season as Saar was a three-time All-America East player with 507 career assists, second only to Vachon. Her 1,069 points made her the only player in school history with 1,000 points and 500 assists.

“I knew my role was going to be really important this season. But I love having pressure on me. I feel like I play better when I do. I want to prove I can do it,” Orois said.

Orois began playing basketball when she was 5 and fell in love with the sport. It’s the only sport she has played.

“Both of my parents are basketball coaches. They played when they were younger,” she said.

Her parents, brother, grandmother and boyfriend made the trip over from Spain to see her play Sunday.

She led her Spanish club teams to four Championships of Spain and was twice named the best passer in the Championships. She also helped the Sant Adria club team to a spot in the European Championship finals.

Her decision to come to UMaine was based on the family atmosphere on the team.

“When you come this far away from home, you need to be on a team where your teammates become your sisters. And that’s what it’s like here. It’s a family. The level of basketball is also really good and that’s important,” Orois said.

Two of her other passions are acting and cooking. She was involved in theater from the ages of 6-14 but said she doesn’t have the time for it now.

She said the reason she loves to cook is because “I love to eat” and said her speciality is a Spanish omelet.

Orois is happy with her game now but said she always wants to get better and watches game videos to see where she can improve.

She is fearless attacking the rim and is also working on her outside shot. She has hit 28.1 percent of her 3-pointers.

“I want to add that to my game. I want to be able to hit pull-up jumpers. That would make it more difficult to guard me. That would help me and it would especially help the team,” Orois said.

The Black Bears will take a 4-8 record, 1-1 in league play, into Wednesday’s game at Hartford (0-12, 0-1).

But the team has just three experienced players in Carroll, Anne Simon and Orois and Orois is excited about the future of the team as players gain more experience.

“It’s cool so see how much we have progressed. And we’ll keep getting better. We all work hard and compete with each other and it is showing in games. We should be in great shape at the end of the season,” she said.