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Freshmen getting used to new roles

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team plays host to Providence on Friday night, and the three talented freshmen brought to Amherst from last year’s recruiting class are coming along right on schedule.

Last year, UMass coach Marnie Dacko signed Jasmine Watson, Shakia Robinson and Dee Montgomery as recruits, and now is making sure that the players are comfortable off of the court in a new setting.

 “I’m happy with our freshman class,” Dacko said. “We talk about their grades all the time, and we talk about them being effective learners in the classroom. I just want them to become an integral part of the campus atmosphere.”

Watson has been a key on the defensive end of the floor in the early season, but is now coming into form on offense. She led the team in scoring against Vermont on Wednesday night with 14 points and was a constant threat down low.

 “On offense I have to worry about the speed,” Watson said of her improvements. “The coaches tell me to go ‘one speed’ or ‘snail speed’ in order to take my time and concentrate on finishing at the basket.”

As a senior at South Bend Washington High School in Indiana, Watson averaged 11.5 points and 8.7 rebounds and her team was ranked second in the nation in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 National Poll. Listed at 6-foot-3, Watson is second on the team in blocks.

 “I’m used to playing girls who are my size or bigger,” Watson said. “I’ve just been getting used to timing blocks more, because I think that is what helps me stay out of foul trouble.”

On offense, Watson is starting to fulfill her promise. The forward struggled early on in the season with turnovers in the low post, but recently adjusted her game with the help of the UMass coaching staff.

The other freshman that helps the Minutewomen in the post is Shakia Robinson. She adds another type of defense to the freshman class.

Robinson is typically a post defender, but on Wednesday night against UVM, she was used as a perimeter defender, and helped shut down the Catamounts leading scorer Courtnay Pilypaitis. The guard averaged 19.1 points per game coming into the matchup, but with steady defense from Robinson and Kristina Danella, UMass limited her to just six points.

Robinson is one of the most vocal players on the team and her yells on defense can often be heard echoing through the Mullins Center during practice and games.

 “If the court is silent then no one knows where everyone is,” Robinson said. “So the more we talk and communicate, the better we’re going to be defensively.”

Montgomery has also contributed for the Minutewomen, but is the only guard out of the trio.

In UMass’ 73-64 loss to Northeastern on Dec. 2, Montgomery had 13 points in 10 minutes of play. Her speed and quickness are her key attributes, and she works well in the pick and roll.

 “The best aspect of my game would be being able to be a slasher, and being able to penetrate to the gaps,” Montgomery said.

A native of Tennessee, Montgomery struggled with consistency so far. She sat out a lot of the preseason due to a concussion she suffered in the first day of practice at UMass. Montgomery’s ball-handling skills are among the best on the team, but she continues to improve her game.

 “I’ve really been trying to play catch up with everybody because I’ve been out about six to eight weeks now,” Montgomery said of her injury. “I’m really having to just learn on the fly and listen to the older girls as much as I can because they try to help me out.”

Neil Carroll can be reached at

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