For the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, practice makes perfect – or at least that’s the idea.
After getting swept on their recent road trip to New York, the Minutewomen (3-15, 1-2 Atlantic 10) returned home determined the key to success was a stronger focus on fundamentals during practice.
Having taken a look at bright spots in what were otherwise dark times during a streak in which the team lost 10 of its last 11 games, the University of Massachusetts team has committed to refining its stronger points in the gym while introducing a “battle environment” to simulate the pressures of an in-game situation.
With 106 rebounds in the last three contests, Minutewomen coach Sharon Dawley acknowledged her team’s play on the glass has improved and said it was at the forefront of the squad’s planning.
“Our rebounding’s getting a little bit better because we’re playing more competitive 1-on-1, 3-on-3, 4-on-4 kind of games within practice,” she said. “That being said, we’re still giving up key offensive boards, so, we’re doing better, but we have a ways to go.”
While Dawley said the team has the same focus it started with at the beginning of the year, the path to accomplishing goals has been altered. Gritty scrimmages during training are the new method of choice to foster a hardworking spirit that will transfer to games.
“It’s hard to really get after it if you know it’s just a drill,” Dawley said. “We make everything into a 3-on-3 tournament, so to speak, and I think that’s helping them get more competitive on the glass.”
Echoing her coach, guard Jasmine Harris said that competing at a high level, trying to make each other better and accomplishing goals are all factors in practice that will contribute to desired results.
With UMass looking to take strides this season, things that can be controlled need to be improved in order to win games.
“It’s been an emphasis in practice to make sure that we box out,” Harris said. With offensive boards for the other team, we don’t want to give them second chances, so we’ve been making sure that we can limit that.
“When we get the rebound, we know that we can go into an offensive set, but when they get the rebound, it’s like a dagger, we hate it.”
Forward Rashida Timbilla, who ranks sixth in the A-10 in rebounding with 8.5 boards per game, said keeping teams contained on defense will naturally generate a stronger attack.
“If we can limit teams to one shot then that lets us run our break and get our offense going,” she said. “In the George Washington game you saw that we put two halves together and locked up both ends. If we can continue to do that we’ll get more wins and it will be more exciting.”
Looking to improve on a lackluster record and believing in their ability to close gaps like a 14-point spread the Minutewomen cut to one during the 61-49 loss to St. Bonaventure, UMass has a renewed sense of confidence and work ethic moving forward in conference play.
“I think with our team, we do a good job of coming in each day and working hard, and that’s a really good sign for us right now,” Timbilla said.
Harris said that at this point in the season, the team has more confidence in each other, even more so than themselves.
“I know that my teammates are gonna have my back,” she said. “I know that they’re gonna get the job done, I have confidence in them and what they’re gonna do, so we have so much confidence in each other that it’s hard to have a head down.
“We definitely don’t want to do that because when you do, you’re just gonna keep losing games.”
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.