It took the final few minutes for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team to squeeze out a 62-57 win over Atlantic 10 rival La Salle Wednesday night.
On a night where UMass (10-16, 4-7 A-10) received just seven points from usual leading scorer Kristina Danella, the Minutewomen looked to freshman center Jasmine Watson and senior guard Kim Benton to lead them past the Explorers (6-20, 1-10 A-10).
Watson led all players in scoring with 20 points while adding six rebounds and three assists. The game marked her fifth-straight scoring night in double-figures. Benton anchored the point throughout the game, registering five assists to go along with five rebounds and nine points.
“I was really happy for Kim,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “She really struggled playing in Philly playing in front of her hometown crowd. It was so nice to see her hit a couple of 3’s and give us an emotional lift.”
The Minutewomen went 9-for-22 shooting, but eight turnovers led to 11 Explorer points. However, UMass went 6-for-8 from the free throw line, 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, and outrebounded La Salle, which allowed it to take a tie at 27 into halftime.
The second half was a different story for the Minutewomen, who limited turnovers and shot a much cleaner 46.4 percent from the field. The constants remained for UMass, which continued its accurate free throw shooting (6-for-7), as well as its strong play on the glass. The Minutewomen had 19 rebounds in the second half, 10 of which were offensive, which led to 14 second-chance points.
“Getting those extra touches were really big for us,” Dacko said. “It just gives us more opportunities to score. We were passing up open looks and we were having a hard time finding separation on shots, so we turned to our rebounding.”
Down by seven points late in the second half, Benton hit two 3-pointers to bring her team back. UMass then relied on its free throw shooting to gain the lead.
“Danella got an o-board and made [two] clutch free throws,” Dacko said. “Then Kim [Benton] stole the ball and Tema [Diatema Hill] finished a three-point play. Watson was also fouled and she made two for us. Three different people stepped up to the line and made free throws for us, which was huge.”
The Minutewomen return to action Saturday when they travel to Cincinnati for a game against Xavier. The Wildcats (20-3, 10-0 A-10) currently sit atop the A-10 conference and are ranked sixth in the nation.
Xavier leads the league in multiple statistical categories and it features two of the most prominent players in the conference in juniors Amber Harris and Ta’Shia Phillips. Harris (15.2 points per game) and Phillips (13.7) rank third and seventh in the league in scoring. Phillips (10.4 rebounds per game) is first while Harris (8.8) averages fourth in the league. The duo ranks first and second in field goal percentage, and second and third in blocked shots as well.
“I think we have to take it as a challenge. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Dacko said. “It’s going to be a physical game. They’ve got two premier players in the league. They’re sixth in the country, so we’re just going to leave it all out on the floor. We’re going to play hard, go at them and be as aggressive as possible.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.