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March 22, 2017

Minutewomen learn from loss at No. 6 Xavier

Every so often, fans, critics, coaches and players of a team deem wins and losses as ‘learning experiences.’ For the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, the outcome of its game on Saturday was one of those experiences.

UMass (10-16, 4-7 Atlantic 10) lost by its biggest deficit of the season on Saturday afternoon, falling to No. 6 Xavier, 74-41, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We learned a lot of lessons [from the loss],” said Kim Benton about the positives the team took from the game. “We learned how aggressively we have to play and just how a No. 6-ranked team comes out and plays every game. We took a lot of lessons from it and for the next couple games, we learned just how we should play.”

The Musketeers’ talented frontcourt wowed the crowd of 2,727 at the Cintas Center, grabbing 46 rebounds to UMass’ 30. Xavier (21-3, 11-0 A-10) dominated, scoring 28 points in the paint and never surrendered the lead after going up, 2-0, to open the scoring.

Preseason All-American Ta’Shia Phillips led the Musketeers to victory with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Phillips, the 6-foot-6 center was a John R. Wooden Award finalist last year and also the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, and proved Saturday she is one of the best centers in the nation.

“Our strategy was to not let her be as comfortable in what she does,” said Jasmine Watson about the team’s defense against Phillips. “She’s a great post player and she’s been a great post player for years. I’ve known her a long time but she has a lot of experience on me.”

Watson, a freshman forward, had a tough match up against Phillips – who plays with the United States Olympic team – but also struggled on offense. Watson had four points and six rebounds, but was 2-of-15 from the floor.

Xavier’s Amber Harris also caused problems for the Minutewomen. The redshirt junior scored 10 points, had nine rebounds and two blocks, and also played defense on UMass’ biggest offensive weapon – Kristina Danella.

Danella had five points and four rebounds in 24 minutes against 6-foot-5 Harris. The sophomore has now been held to single-digits in scoring in UMass’ last two games.

Junior Stephanie Lawrence led UMass with nine points and also had four rebounds in the contest. Lawrence was 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and provided a spark for the Minutewomen in the second half – even when the team was down by 30 points.

“We learned that being competitive keeps you in the game,” said Watson. “I know we were down points-wise, but I think we played as a team for the most part. We played team defense even though we don’t match up well with them, and we boxed out hard, but height kind of wins the battle sometimes.”

Again, UMass fell victim to their opponent’s second-chance opportunities. Xavier, like many teams this year, dominated the Minutewomen in that category, holding a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points.

“I think we gave a good effort defensively and we stuck to the game plan,” said Benton after the game. “They’re a great team, they started making shots and there was nothing really we could do for it.”

Musketeers Tyeasha Moss and Katie Rutan were tied for the lead in scoring in the game with 12 points each. Moss was 4-of-9 in 3-point shooting, while Rutan went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Neil Carroll can be reached at nacarrol@student.umass.edu.

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