The Massachusetts women’s basketball team has something to prove this year.
After finishing last season with an 8-21 overall record and a 3-11 mark in the Atlantic 10, the Minutewomen kick off their 2012-13 season on Saturday afternoon against Kent State at the Mullins Center trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2011-12.
After losing three of its top four scorers – Shakia Robinson, Megan Zullo and Emilie Teuscher – from last year’s campaign to graduation, UMass was selected to finish 15th in the A-10 preseason poll during this past offseason.
Sporting a new look since returning only eight out of 15 players – including two seniors, co-captains guard Dee Montgomery and center Jasmine Watson – UMass coach Sharon Dawley expects the upperclassman to generate a majority of the team’s scoring.
“It’s quite a scoring load to combat, but Montgomery is playing really well and she’ll take some of that burden over,” Dawley said. “Jasmine Watson’s twice the player she was last year so she’s going to take on more and she’s looking better because I think the people around her are looking to her more since our spacing’s better. She has a lot more opportunities and is doing a better job overall.”
Montgomery said that along with Watson, the entire team spent the summer working to improve their game. And as teams focus in on Watson, it’s up to the rest of the team to step up, Montgomery said.
“In having a beast like Jasmine Watson, we know that a lot of teams are going to be focusing on her,” Montgomery said. “Everybody this summer spent a lot of time making sure that we were in the gym, putting up shots and reading off of Watson …”
Junior forward Kiara Bomben has had time to develop her game after redshirting for the entirety of her sophomore season as per NCAA rules after transferring from Florida Gulf Coast, and is ready to take the court after being named a co-captain along with Montgomery and Watson.
“Last year, even though I wasn’t able to play, I was able to watch, and so that really helped me see what the style and flow of the team are like,” Bomben said. “I’m just really excited. It’s fun actually now being in there with the team and doing stuff with them. We’ve got a couple of days, but we’re definitely using that time to focus on some defensive things and emphasize a lot of (tactics.)”
With a focus on defense and chemistry, Bomben said this year’s squad is an extremely motivated group.
“Last season wasn’t the way we wanted it to pan out and we’re definitely making moves,” Bomben said. “In (the) postseason last year, we got up really early, ready to work, were here throughout the summer for 12 weeks working our (heads) off, and that work continued when we got to practice.
“It’s going to be a lot different from last year, we’ve been working on defense, team camaraderie and enthusiasm so we’re all very excited,” she said.
Dawley said work ethic has proved infectious for newcomers to the team, who have taken cues from the veterans.
“I think the seniors are doing a great job leading by example,” Dawley said. “No one outworks Montgomery right now, no one out works Watson down low…”
Dawley also said that sophomore Kim Pierre-Louis is not to be ignored, as she can help pick up the slack.
“I think we’re very unselfish, almost too unselfish, but it’s a (minor) problem,” Dawley said.
The unselfishness of the group is the most dangerous aspect of her team in Dawley’s mind.
“I think a team that spreads it out like that, a team that has five people on the floor that can chip in, is a dangerous team,” Dawley said. “We all know we want (Watson) to get a lot of looks, get a lot of touches, but everyone’s got to pull their own weight too. It’s a nice problem to have, but our problem right now might be everyone not looking enough for their own, although I’d rather be there than anywhere else.”
Montgomery sees the freshmen as great assets to a team that appreciates hard work. The Minutewomen have five freshmen on the roster: guards Jasmine Harris, Nola Henry, Adriana Jordan and Victoria Stewart, along with forward Rashida Timbilla.
“They’ve got a lot of speed, length, athleticism and overall, a lot of energy,” Montgomery said. “They make sure to bring in a lot of energy to every practice, making sure they keep us upbeat and that we never take a play off because they’re right there going hard every single play. That effort makes us be sure we’re on our stuff and make sure we’re going hard every single play.”
Despite any growing pains, Dawley said hard work will take her team to the places it needs to go.
“Champions work hard and I think they work hard when no one’s looking,” Dawley said. “You don’t want to be that team that needs to be pushed and prodded into working hard. You want to be that team where that’s the decision you’ve made, that’s the mindset you have, and as we grow, we can become (that) team.”
The season-opener is scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip-off.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello