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Minutewomen prepared for inaugural Bulldogs contest

When the Massachusetts women’s basketball team put a stop to their 8-game losing streak with an Atlantic 10 Conference-opening 62-58 win over George Washington on Jan. 12, there was excitement in the air.

Taylor snow/Collegian

Following the win, University of Massachusetts coach Sharon Dawley proclaimed the moment as the start of a new season for her team.

Soon after, however, the Minutewomen (3-15, 1-2 A-10) suffered back-to-back losses on their trip to New York, once again ending up with a losing record.

A pair of 12-point losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure put an early stop to the excitement of the new season mantra. Dawley thinks there were still valuable moments to take away from the road trip that will aid her team going forward as it tries to fight for a playoff spot.

“What we got from the two losses on the road is that we are still doing better in a rebound war,” she said. “That has been a huge goal for us. Even though we lost our last game we were up in rebounding.”

The 40 rebounds the Minutewomen collected over the Bonnies were propelled by the nine hauled in by Rashida Timbilla, who leads the team with 153 rebounds, good for an 8.5 per game average, so far this season. Jasmine Watson, with 103 boards, is the only other Minutewoman to come close to her teammate’s tally.

On the other side of the coin, Butler (11-7, 2-1 A-10) will show up for tipoff on Wednesday on the back of a pair of conference wins, its first as members of the A-10 following the school’s move in the offseason. In contrast with UMass, the Bulldogs’ first conference game ended in a 43-point blowout defeat at home against Dayton, before picking up wins against Xavier and at La Salle.

Dawley believes her team is prepared for the challenge ahead, citing the non-conference portion of her team’s schedule as preparation for all the possible variations of defense they could find themselves matched up against.

“We played just about every system that we will see and that is typical,” she said. “By this time of year you have kind of seen it all. Now we can just focus on the one game at a time [and] what opponent do we have.”

Even though the midweek affair will be the first-ever meeting between Butler and the Minutewomen, Dawley believes her team is suitably prepared to take on the conference newcomers.

“[Butler is] a solid team and a smart team,” she said. “From the couple games we have seen on film, we have seen them play up tempo, really getting after it and in their last game against La Salle, medium to slow paced. So they can play both ends of the spectrum.

“We have a pretty good idea of what they will do against us and obviously all our non-conference games have prepared us for that.”

In predicting how the opponent will line up against her team, Dawley acknowledged the offensive contributions some of her players have been making as they fight to put a stop to a skid that has seen just one win over their last 11 games. Kiara Bomben and Carolann Cloutier each provided a pair of team highs in points over the last four games as they look to hit their stride. Along with Emily Mital, who averages 9.6 points per game, the backcourt will look to continue to provide more supporting offense for Watson’s 12.2 points per game.

The Bulldogs will take the court with at least three players able to contribute 10 or more points on any given a night. Daress McClung pairs her average of 9.7 rebounds with 16 points per game. Taylor Schippers and Liz Stratman add 14.4 and 12.3 points, respectively, while Hannah Douglas falls just short of double digits with 9.6 points per contest.

Dawley believes that the next four games, three of which will be played on familiar Mullins Center floor, will be a crucial opportunity for her team to find its footing in early conference play.

“Any home game is a chance for you to right the ship,” she said. “That is what we hope to do tomorrow.

The inaugural matchup between the Bulldogs and the Minutewomen tips off at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at jokerman@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.

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