It is not the same game or the same team from mid-January.
The Massachusetts women’s basketball team will play its first game of the A-10 tournament Friday against Richmond. In their only other meeting this year, the Spiders defeated the Minutewomen, 73-62, at the Mullins Center Jan. 16.
UMass head coach Marnie Dacko is confident the upcoming meeting will not play out like the first one.
“We’re a much better team now than we were on Jan. 16 as far as defense and rebounding [are concerned],” Dacko said. “We’re [also] much more comfortable handling the pressure, and we have to be because they have an assortment of presses.”
The two halves of the Jan. 16 game were polar opposites for both teams. In the first half, Richmond (18-11, 7-7 A-10) shot a blistering 69 percent from the field, while hitting 7-of-10 3-point attempts. In the second half, it shot 23 percent while hitting three of 13 3-point attempts.
UMass’ poor first half was balanced out in the second, when it shot 59 percent from the field and hit 4-of-7 3-point attempts. However, the second-half surge was not enough for the Minutewomen (11-18, 5-9 A-10).
“They shot seven of 10 from three [range],” Dacko said. “We played man defense and zone defense and it didn’t matter. I watched [a lot] of Richmond’s film and they’ve never had a better half.”
The Minutewomen would prefer to worry about things they can control, like containing junior guard Brittani Shells, who has started all but one game in her collegiate career and currently leads the conference in scoring, with an average of 17 points per game. On Jan. 16, Shells led all scorers with 22 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists and three steals.
“We know what we have to do against Richmond. We have to put a great deal of pressure on Brittani Shells,” Dacko said. “She had 22 against us and is one of the top scorers in the league.”
Aside from defending Shells, UMass must execute in other aspects if it wants to repeat its second-half performance, when it outscored the Spiders, 33-29.
One area that does not bode well for UMass is turnovers. The Minutewomen have the worst turnover margin in the conference, averaging 5.1 more turnovers than their opponents. Richmond, on the other hand, owns the best turnover margin in the league, averaging 5.2 less turnovers than their opponents. If that trend plays out, UMass would have ten more turnovers than Richmond,.
UMass enters the game with the clear advantage inside, and will continue to look to centers Jasmine Watson and Nicole Jones to show up on the stat sheet with points, rebounds and blocks. The duo have been solid defensively, with 75 combined blocks.
“I think our big players really have to step up and take some pressure off the perimeter players. Our bigs are playing really well,” Dacko said. “We really have to utilize Nikki and Jaz inside, and then we really have to step it up with ball movement along the perimeter. I think we have a balanced attack now and we’re a better team. We’re looking for good team basketball.”
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.