The losses have been piling up for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, and Sunday’s 57-55 defeat at the hands of Dartmouth was no less dramatic than many of the others.
After fighting through offensive struggles and mental lapses for much of the game, the Minutewomen narrowly missed pulling off the type of late-game comeback that has consistently evaded them this season.
The loss is UMass’ season-high eighth in a row, a streak that dates back over a month to Dec. 1. The extended skid left Minutewomen head coach Sharon Dawley searching for answers.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” Dawley said. “We’ve yet to have a game where we’ve had five kids click at the same time. That’s where we’re at in terms of being frustrated.
“Sometimes it creeps in that you’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win a basketball game, and that could be part of (the losing streak).”
The Minutewomen (2-13) failed to put together any sort of offensive momentum for much of the game, but especially early on. Missed layups and open looks led to a 6-of-28 first half shooting performance and a 26-21 halftime deficit for the reeling UMass squad.
The first half trends continued out of the break for UMass, as the Big Green (2-12) stretched their lead to double-digits, but a career-high 16 points from forward Kiara Bomben, who used a 10-of-12 night from the free throw line to help set the mark, and 10 points from reserve guard Carolann Cloutier kept things from getting out of hand.
“It just felt great,” Cloutier said, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last season. “It’s just hard when you come back from an injury and you’re trying to get there, but it’s just not working. I just felt really confident with my shot, and today it was just dropping.”
Forward Aisha Rodney, who, along with Cloutier, was called on to play big minutes down the stretch after standout performers Jasmine Watson and Rashida Timbilla were sidelined with foul trouble, contributed eight points, which drew praise from her coach.
“Both (Watson and Timbilla) picked up, I thought, silly third fouls,” Dawley said, “but it gave Aisha a chance, and I think she ran with it. She’s a great player.”
After swapping offensive runs in the second half, the Minutewomen pulled within two points of Dartmouth, sitting at 51-49 with just under two minutes left in regulation.
But as it has more often than not been the case this season, UMass failed to execute when it mattered most. Sloppy turnovers and bad looks at the hoop derailed the comeback attempt, and timely free throw shooting from the Big Green, who went 17-of-18 from the line, sealed the victory late.
Center Tia Dawson led Dartmouth with a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double while also picking up five assists in 31 minutes. Guard Faziah Steen (11 points) and center Daisy Jordan (10) also reached double-digits for the Big Green.
Dawley said afterwards that the looming challenge of conference play hanging over the team didn’t affect the team’s preparation.
“They’re all must-win (games),” she said. “There’s no game that we can take lightly.”
UMass next welcomes Atlantic 10 rival George Washington to the Mullins Center at 2 p.m. on Saturday as the team kicks off the conference portion of its schedule.
Daniel Malone can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.