The Massachusetts women’s basketball team hasn’t exactly excelled in end-of-game execution of late, but Sunday’s 63-59 home loss against Holy Cross set a new low for the Minutewomen this season.
UMass (1-5, 0-0 Atlantic 10), needing only to protect an 8-point lead with four minutes remaining in regulation against the visiting Crusaders, crumbled under the self-directed pressure of untimely turnovers and crunch-time shooting woes. When the stakes were highest, the Minutewomen managed only one field goal following a timeout at the four minute mark.
While UMass slipped up en route to its fifth consecutive loss, Holy Cross (2-3, 0-0 Patriot League) rose to the occasion behind the clutch shooting of senior guard Alex Smith.
Smith – a Crusader co-captain, pre-season All-Patriot League first team selection, and the team’s per-game leader in points and assists coming into the game – made two of her game-high five 3-pointers with the game on the line and her team in dire need of quick points. Smith’s final field goal, a 3-point make with 50 seconds left in the game, gave Holy Cross a 60-58 lead, putting the eventual winners up for good.
“I feel like I’m very confident when I shoot the ball,” Smith said. “My teammates give me confidence. … I knew that we were down, and we needed kind of a morale booster.
“I let it fly and it went in this time.”
Smith said part of the confidence that helped her to complete the Crusaders’ late game comeback comes from sideline encouragement from fellow co-captain and all-league selection Amy Lepley, who has missed nearly the entire season with a knee injury.
“She talks to me (and) helps me through the game,” Smith said. “We talk about, offensively, what she sees and, defensively, what she sees. Although she’s not on the floor, she’s definitely impacting the team greatly.”
While Smith and her team can celebrate, the postgame outlook is not as pleasant for UMass coach Sharon Dawley and the Minutewomen, for whom Sunday’s collapse was another pitfall in a season-long struggle to limit critical mistakes.
“Obviously, we’re pretty frustrated in the outcome,” Dawley said. “We were talking in the locker room about (missed easy shots). We had an 8-point lead (and) weren’t able to secure the game by missing (those shots), fouling and not getting back in transition defense.”
Dawley was particularly upset about her team’s performance at the end of the game.
“(In) press offense, obviously, we threw the ball away three critical times. You know, stuff that we just can’t do, especially in crunch time.”
UMass built the second-half lead it would eventually relinquish behind another strong effort from sophomore guard Emily Mital, who scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including two makes from beyond the arc. Redshirt junior forward Kiara Bomben, who had struggled in recent games to find her shot, helped the Minutewomen to jump out to an early lead and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and a game-high two blocks.
With Holy Cross struggling to a 31.3 shooting percentage in the first half – which included a 0-for-10 start – Bomben’s play, coupled with 11 points from senior center Jasmine Watson, paced UMass to a 27-23 halftime lead, its first since the season opener against Kent State.
Ultimately, however, Smith’s late-game daggers and a 12-point, second half barrage from junior forward Christine Ganser proved too much for the Minutewomen to handle.
“I thought it was two teams that were desperate for a win,” Crusaders coach Bill Gibbons said. “Two teams, young, playing hard … I really thought, (in) the second half, we wanted it more than they did.”
Struggling to re-group and in serious need of a win, UMass next hits the road for a four-game stretch of away games that begins Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Ohio.
Daniel Malone can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.