University of Maine women's basketball team freshman guard Jaycie Christopher has stepped into the shared role of point guard during her first season with the Black Bears. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

The University of Maine’s women’s basketball team has been blessed with All-America East point guards for nearly a decade.

Sigi Koizar, Dor Saar and Alba Orois supplied the Black Bears with quality at the most important position on the basketball court.

When All-America East third team point guard and league assists leader Orois decided on June 1 to leave the program after her sophomore season to embark on a pro career, that left a huge void on this year’s team.

The UMaine women’s basketball is now playing this season without a pure point guard and instead is using a committee of different players to fill the role. Point guards run the offense and have the ball in their hands far more than any other player on their team, and not having one means opposing teams can pressure the ball handler and force turnovers — which can lead to easy transition baskets.

It also disrupts the flow of the offense.  

The two players who are currently entrusted to handle the point guard role are sophomore guard Paula Gallego, an America East All-Rookie team selection last year, and Skowhegan freshman Jaycie Christopher.

Gallego had never been a point guard. Christopher — the 2022 Miss Maine Basketball and Maine Gatorade Player of the Year — played virtually every position on the floor for Skowhegan, including point guard.

“It has been different. It’s a work in progress,” said UMaine head coach Amy Vachon about the lack of having a point guard.

The former Black Bear star, who played point guard herself, is the school’s all-time assists leader with 759.

“A lot of different kids can do the job. Not having a pure point guard, in a way, makes us more versatile and flexible. It is a learning curve for me as it is for the rest of the team,” Vachon said.

She said that while Gallego never played the position before, she’s done a nice job of coming in and taking it on this season. Vachon added that while Christopher played point guard in high school, it was a much different experience.

“She had the ball a lot because she had to score all the time. It’s a very different look at this level than at the high school level,” said Vachon, who has been equally pleased with Christopher.

Despite her inexperience at the position, Gallego said she feels comfortable with the ball.

“I’m happy with the way I’ve played but there is always room for improvement. There is a lot to learn but it hasn’t been bad.”

Gallego said Vachon has made her and Christopher’s jobs simpler.

“I look at her and she tells me what to call. I just run what she tells me to run. I don’t have to make all the decisions,” said Gallego. “We all rely on each other a lot.”

Christopher added that while it’s been an adjustment, being surrounded by her teammates has made the transition a lot smoother.

She said one of the things that has helped her and Gallego is that “we have a lot of people who can handle the ball. Whoever gets the rebound can just go and push the pace.”

Gallego concurred, adding, “If they pressure me, I can rely on my teammates to bring the ball up.”

Christopher and Gallego are each coming off a turnover-free game in an 88-60 win over Army West Point. Christopher played 31 minutes and had 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists en route to America East Rookie of the Week honors and Gallego played 23 minutes and finished with four points, six rebounds and three assists.

Turnovers have been an issue for the Black Bears this season as they averaged 18.7 per game through their first nine games. But they have committed only 21 in their last two contests.

Christopher committed 12 turnovers in her first four games but has just four in her last four.

Gallego has 18 in 11 games but just four in her last three games.  She has committed two or fewer turnovers in nine games.

Gallego and Christopher are 6-foot-1 and 5-foot-10, respectively, so they are more physical point guards compared with the 5-foot-8 Koizar, 5-foot-7 Orois and 5-foot-6 Saar, who relied more on their speed.

Christopher is averaging 6.2 points and 2 rebounds per game while shooting 48.7 percent beyond the 3-point arc, which is 27th best in the country among 350 Division I teams. Gallego is averaging 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds along with 2.4 assists.

The 4-7 Black Bears will try to make it two wins in a row on Sunday at 3 p.m. when they travel to take on the 5-5 Harvard University Crimson.

The Black Bears could get a big lift if America East Player of the Year and Defender of the Year Anne Simon returns to the lineup after missing eight games with an ankle injury. The senior guard is still the team’s leading scorer with a 12 points per game average and she also had 4 rebounds per game.

She was practicing with the team on Wednesday.

“If the trainer tells me she is ready, she will play,” Vachon said.

Junior guard Lexi Mittelstadt from Wilton, who hasn’t played this season after undergoing two foot surgeries, was also practicing with the team and could be available soon.