With just over four minutes left to play on Sunday, a light at the end of the tunnel shone bright.
But when the final buzzer blew, that light had been expunged.
For the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, the buzzer meant the 63-59 defeat against Holy Cross extended a four-game losing streak to five. To make matters worse, the Minutewomen (1-5) had held a 56-48 advantage with 4:22 left in the game.
Following a lay-up from UMass freshman Rashida Timbilla, the visiting Crusaders (2-3) went on a 15-3 run to close out the contest, including nine unanswered to take the lead in a two-minute frame.
The final four minutes for the Minutewomen were, in contrast, characterized by five fouls, six turnovers and one field goal in seven attempts; a statistical picture that coach Sharon Dawley was not comfortable with.
“We’re pretty frustrated in the outcome,” Dawley said in a postgame interview on Sunday. “We threw the ball away three critical times, stuff that we just can’t do, especially in crunch time.”
Timbilla was bit by the turnover bug in the final minutes of the game, losing possession four times as well as committing a pair of fouls that led to her fouling out in the final seconds. The Crusaders profited from the mistakes of the freshman, turning two turnovers into two 3-pointers. The six-point swing first brought Holy Cross to within one and later put them ahead by a pair.
However, Dawley knows that the Ottawa, Ontario native is still learning.
“In defense of Rashida, (she’s a) freshman,” Dawley said. “So possibly that wasn’t the best route to go though. I think she is the best person, at least in practice in those situations. But down the road she won’t make those mistakes.”
The Minutewomen were afforded the opportunity to make up points; an area that they will focus on in practice in the days to follow. Two second-chance opportunities presented themselves in the final minutes, and twice were they squandered; a four-point gap UMass would eventually lose by.
Dawley believes that squandering those second-chance opportunities not only hurt them offensively, but back on defense as well.
“We had an eight-point lead,” Dawley said. “We weren’t able to secure the game by missing (easy shots), fouling and not getting back in transition defense.
“I thought the effort was good,” Dawley added, “we executed very well, but we have to be able to make (easy shots) and we have to consistently get back on defense.”
Minutewomen in foul trouble
Timbilla’s afternoon concluded a couple of seconds early against Holy Cross, fouling out with just a pair of ticks left on the clock.
The freshman was not the only one racking up fouls though, with Jasmine Watson and Dee Montgomery also on the brink of fouling out with four apiece. Aisha Rodney had three fouls.
Though Timbilla fouled out, it was the timeliness of Watson’s foul trouble that hurt the team the most.
The senior contributed all of her 11 points in the first-half, with just one foul. However, two quick second-half fouls meant Watson had to occupy a spot on the bench for six minutes and after her fourth foul, another two minutes.
Dawley believes the captain’s foul struggles made it difficult for the team.
“It is hard and we as a team consistently get in foul trouble,” Dawley said. “Foul trouble and boxing out have been our Achilles heel, so that is something we are going to have to get better at.”
However, Watson, a senior and a captain, believes that letting foul trouble affect the way she plays would be detrimental to the team.
“I don’t want to try to start going into games thinking I can’t get in foul trouble, because then I automatically will get in foul trouble,” Watson said. “I know as a player on the team, and as a senior, I can’t take plays off because I have three fouls, especially in such a close game.”
The Minutewomen will look to tackle the issues that have plagued them in the opening stretch of games in practice, before facing Ohio on Thursday morning.
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.