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January 4, 2017

Late-game defense preserves UMass women’s basketball’s win against rival Rhode Island -

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AIC shuts out UMass hockey 3-0 at Mullins Center -

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Minutewomen struggle at home

It’s not too often you hear the words: home court disadvantage.

When the Massachusetts women’s basketball team welcomed George Washington into the Mullins Center on Wednesday, it was confident it could put its home court woes in the rearview mirror.

That was not the case however, as the Minutewomen (7-13, 1-4 Atlantic 10) dropped another game in their home arena. UMass has not won a game in the Mullins Center since Nov. 22, when it defeated Villanova, 55-47.

“I don’t know why we struggle at home. I’m amazed at it,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “I don’t know if there’s any external factors there but we definitely should be comfortable playing at home.”

Dacko alluded to the Mullins Center lights obstructing shooters’ vision, but it doesn’t seem to bother opposing teams.

“It’s odd that teams that generally don’t shoot well shoot well at the Mullins Center,” Dacko said. “However, we don’t shoot well [here]. This is the only team I’ve had for a long time that hasn’t used the Mullins to its advantage.”

UMass’ poor play at home does not translate into practices on the same hardwood.

“We have a men’s practice squad that we play against and beat everyday,” Dacko said. “We hang with the guys and execute very well during practices.”

It’s quite the dilemma. The coaching staff is not sure how to fix the problem, but is still trying to figure it out.

“As a coach you just try to reflect and figure out what we are going to do next – what new thing we’re going to try,” Dacko said. “[The coaches] are forever changing and constantly making adaptations through film and what we hear from the players.”

Backcourt pressures

When UMass struggles, nobody feels more pain than the guards. The 1’s and 2’s that run the floor are often looked at to lead the team and establish a cohesive game plan.

Redshirt junior Megan Zullo, along with senior guards Kim Benton and Diatiema Hill, rack up most of the playing time in the UMass backcourt. Dee Montgomery, a freshman guard, went down early in the season due to a concussion, which has put additional strain on the starters.

“Kim really has to anchor the point position and that’s been a daunting task as the season progresses,” Dacko said. “She’s doing the best she can and I think she’s doing a very good job of controlling the ball. We feel very comfortable with her at the point.”

The addition of Megan Zullo last offseason from North Carolina State excited the Minutewomen, who felt that she would add a terrific shooter’s touch into the mix.

“Zullo is a shooter and is our best passer to the inside,” Dacko said. “She’s been sitting really for two years [at NC State], so basketball is really coming back for her. She puts a lot of pressure on herself and we’re reinforcing to her that her game will come back.”

The pressures of running a sputtering offense can be hard to deal with for the guards, who continue to work hard.

“Kim, Diatiema and Megan are pressed because they feel our record should be better than it is,” Dacko said. “They all take the burden of the team’s responsibility. They’re very dedicated and they care a lot, but the bottom line is that although we give 110 percent, it doesn’t mean a win at the end of the game. I just keep telling them that we have to trust each other, and that we’re working hard enough, so the wins will come.”

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

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