University of Maine freshman basketball guard Paula Gallego took ballet lessons when she was young.
“But I got bored with it. I wanted to try some sports. So I started playing basketball and I loved it,” said Gallego, a native of Barcelona, Spain.
And University of Maine women’s coach Amy Vachon is certainly loving what she is seeing from the 6-foot-1 Spaniard.
Gallego was inserted into the starting lineup 14 games ago and has continually elevated her game.
In Wednesday’s 49-45 road victory over title-contender Albany, she scored a career-high 13 points and had three rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.
She was 5-for-8 from the floor and 3-for-5 beyond the 3-point arc.
The Black Bears have won 10 in a row and will host the University of Maryland Baltimore County this weekend with a 1 p.m. game at the Memorial Gym on Saturday and another 1 p.m. tip on Sunday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
UMaine is now 16-10 overall and 13-3 in the conference while UMBC is 3-20 and 2-11.
Over her last five games, Gallego has averaged 7.6 points while shooting a blistering 70.8 percent from the floor (17-for-24). She has gone 4-for-8 beyond the 3-point arc.
She also has 10 rebounds and eight steals in those five games and has blocked a shot in each of her last three games.
“She has become a more confident player with the playing time she has earned,” Vachon said. “She understands where she can do certain things on the offensive end. She has a lot of potential. She has a really high ceiling.”
“I love playing with Paula,” said UMaine graduate student forward Maeve Carroll. “She is a great cutter off the ball. She is more confident. She knows she can score now.”
Carroll said Gallego also worked hard on her one-on-one defending and has become a good defender.
“She took that to heart,” Carroll said. “She has really emphasized that. She has done a lot of great things for us.”
Gallego admits that there was an adjustment period.
She is living away from home for the first time and had to adapt to school, a different climate, a complicated playing system and a new language, although she speaks fluent English.
“We’re also going to the gym and working out which we don’t do much of at home,” she said. “The game is so much different here. But I’m in much better shape now, although I still have a lot to work on.”
She said it was hard not getting much playing time at the beginning of the year but she had a couple of good weeks of practice around the Christmas break.
Her family visited her during the Christmas break and she was able to relax, spend time with them and focus on basketball.
Fellow Spaniard Alba Orois, UMaine’s sophomore point guard, has been a huge help to her.
“She has helped me with everything. She knows how everything works. She has made things so much easier for me,” said Gallego, who has also been the beneficiary of several Orois passes which led to easy baskets.
“She is always able to find me [when I’m open],” Gallego said.
UMaine has already sewn up the top seed for the upcoming America East tournament since league leader Stony Brook can’t play in the tournament due to a league bylaw forbids a team that is going to leave the league from playing in their championships. Stony Brook is joining the Colonial Athletic Association next season.
However, UMaine would be the regular season champion for the fourth time in five years with a sweep of UMBC because it would win the tie-breaker against the Seawolves, who are 14-3 in the conference with one game against Albany left.
UMaine’s 10-game winning streak is the seventh longest active streak among the 348 Division I schools.
“We have been working real hard this week. We want to finish the season right,” said Gallego, who is averaging 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 16.4 minutes per game while leading the team in shooting percentage at 50.7 percent.