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Minutewomen face tough road test

A tough start to the conference schedule is about to get tougher.5

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team travels to Pittsburgh tonight for a game against league-leading Duquesne.

Duquesne (13-5, 3-0 Atlantic 10) looks to continue its confident play after defeating Fordham, 69-63, in a nationally televised broadcast on Sunday. Leading the way for the Dukes was redshirt junior forward Samantha Pollino, who registered a game-high 20 points to go along with her nine rebounds.

Against St. Bonaventure four days earlier, Pollino tallied 15 points and six rebounds in the Dukes’ 57-52 victory. Her road trip performances earned her A-10 Player of the Week honors for the second time in her career.

Despite leading her team with 13.1 points per game, Pollino and the Dukes benefit largely in-part to a balanced scoring attack. Right behind Pollino is senior guard Keri Pryor (12.8 points per game) and sophomore forward Alex Gensler (11.4). In overall scoring, Duquesne ranks third behind Xavier and Dayton, averaging 67.9 points per game.

Although the Minutewomen (7-11, 1-2 A-10) enter Wednesday’s game as the underdog, they believe there are a few reasons to be hopeful. UMass gained valuable experience against another elite conference team on Saturday, when it lost to Richmond, 73-62. The Spiders (13-4, 2-0 A-10) witnessed an inspired second half from the Minutewomen, whose 33-25 advantage in the second half was not enough to overcome its mistakes in the first.

UMass also has sound rebounding ability. The Minutewomen average 3.2 more rebounds than their opponents and are fourth best in the league.

Making her presence known in the paint is freshman center Jasmine Watson, who tallied eight rebounds and 19 points against Richmond. She added two assists, a steal, a block and a perfect free throw percentage (3-3). Her performance propelled her earning A-10 Rookie of the Week honors.

The Minutewomen have the advantage at the free-throw line, which has been the most consistent aspect of UMass’ game this year. Its 76.5 percentage is second-best in the league. Duquesne’s 67.2 mark puts them in ninth place.

The final advantage the Minutewomen have is their strength away from home. Five of its seven wins have come on the road, the last being a 62-59 overtime win at Saint Louis on Jan. 13.

However, Duquesne does covet certain statistical advantages as well.

The Dukes are stronger at distributing the ball. Their 15.7 assists per game are five more than the Minutewomen’s mark, and is second-best in the league behind Xavier.

Duquesne also occupies the number two spot in steals, averaging 11.3 per game while UMass’ 7.2 per game is 11th. Superior stealing, coupled with UMass’ high turnover frequency, could spell disaster for the Minutewomen, whose -5.89 turnover margin is worst in the league.

In order for UMass to pull off an upset, it has to start with limiting turnovers. Additionally, the Minutwomen have to find ways to get to the line, as well as continue their rebounding success.

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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