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Perimeter shooting carrying Minutewomen

After struggling with its long-range shooting in a one-point win over Villanova, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team made great strides in its perimeter game and now uses the 3-pointer as one of its primary weapons.

Throughout the season, the Minutewomen made 3-pointers in several key situations to either gain or expand the lead. Over their last five games, the Minutewomen scored 35 percent of their points from beyond the arc, with long-range shooting playing a huge role in the team’s victories in the Brown Bear Classic. UMass totaled 21 3-pointers in the tournament’s two games.

“In the first game we got a lot of open looks … where the kids squared up,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “And in the second game we got a lot of open shots early from Cerie [Mosgrove] and [Zullo]. We have been running the break well and Kim [Benton] and Diatiema [Hill] have been able to find people open on the perimeter.”

Redshirt junior Megan Zullo made eight 3-pointers over the weekend, and has been the team’s deadliest shooter this season. In nine games she finished with 19 3-pointers on 42 percent shooting from long range. Her best efforts came against New Hampshire and Quinnipiac, where she shot 4-of-7 and 6-of-8 on 3-point attempts.

Over the weekend, Zullo provided timely 3’s to ignite runs of 10-0 and 11-0 for the Minutewomen, which ultimately gave them the lead at the end of each period against Quinnipiac.

Dacko credits Zullo’s success to a recent position change.

“We changed her position to more of a shooter’s spot as opposed to a ball handler,” Dacko said. “We have taken away her ball handling and opened her up offensively. She stepped up and has been a great spark off the bench. She does it every day in practice, so it’s good to see her do it in a game.”

In addition to Zullo, sophomore Kristina Danella also provides a consistent threat from 3-point range. The guard trails Zullo with 18 3-pointers on the season, with several of those shots coming at critical times. Because Danella’s shooting ability is honored by other teams, she forces opponents to play her extremely tight in the closing minutes of games.

In the season opener, Boston University fouled Danella at the top of the arc with 17 seconds remaining. Danella then converted all three free-throws, sending the game into overtime en route to a UMass victory. She then struck again against Brown last Saturday, hitting consecutive 3’s to ignite an 18-5 run for UMass, which ultimately put their lead out of reach.

However, the UMass long-range attack still commands attention even when either Zullo or Danella is out of the lineup. Senior Kim Benton, junior Cerie Mosgrove and sophomore Emily Teuscher have all proven to be threats from deep.

Benton’s struggles early on have overshadowed her strong shooting ability. The guard is fourth all time at UMass with 102 3-pointers, including 50 in her freshman season. She can both find and provide an open target, but is shooting 19 percent from beyond the arc this season.

Like Benton, Mosgrove cannot find her touch. In nine games this season, she converted 11-of-40 3-point attempts. As a sophomore she proved that she can knock down long-range shots, shooting 35 percent from deep in 30 games.

Teuscher recently proved that she is also a threat on the perimeter. In the best performance of her young career, the Miamisburg, Ohio, native scored nine points on perfect shooting on three shots from long range against Brown.

However, Dacko feels that not all credit should go to the shooters and ball handlers. She credits the team’s recent improvements down low with some of the improvements on the perimeter. Freshmen Shakia Robinson and Jasmine Watson and sophomore Nicole Jones improved their post play in recent weeks. All of them can draw defenders in the paint, while scanning the perimeter and dishing the ball out when the time is right.

“I think the best offense is an entry pass into the post, because then the perimeter players can relocate,” Dacko said. “The post players have been doing an excellent job of [finding players on the perimeter].”

Mike Mastone can be reached at mmastone@student.umass.edu.

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