The Massachusetts women’s basketball team failed to break out of its losing ways Wednesday night at the Mullins Center, falling 75-61 to new conference-foe Butler in the first ever meeting between the two schools.
UMass coach Sharon Dawley, who emphasized the importance of rebounding and intensity in practice, could only describe the game as frustrating considering the high-caliber play of her squad before halftime.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Dawley said. “I thought we looked good in the first half … It’s frustrating, they came on our floor and outplayed us in the second half.”
Facing a Bulldogs team that was riding the momentum of a two-game win streak, the Minutewomen (3-16, 1-3 Atlantic 10) did not let Butler get a mental advantage after scoring the first two buckets.
Senior center Jasmine Watson took it upon herself to knot the score at four less than three minutes into the game en route to compiling 13 points in the first half to go along with seven rebounds after 14 minutes of play.
Aiding the UMass effort was redshirt sophomore center Millie Niggeling, who contributed four points and matched Watson in rebounds before halftime.
Going 0-for-3 in her first few chances, Niggeling said her first basket was the one that fueled her confident play early on.
“It was really big for me to hit a (bucket) just to get my confidence up,” Niggeling said. “Once I made that shot, I was confident to shoot the other ones.”
With the Minutewomen taking a lead into the second half for the first time since Dec. 8, 2012, the 35-33 frame marked a clear turning point in the game.
Powered by junior forward Daress McClung and sophomore guard Taylor Schippers, who combined for 39 points in the matchup, the Bulldogs (12-7, 3-1 A-10) were on the right side of a 42-26 tilt during the second half.
Dawley acknowledged that missing easy “bunnies” rattled her team’s confidence and mostly affected the defense.
Pointing out a trend of putting Butler on the foul line too many times, while UMass only sank 13 of 19 tries from the charity stripe, Dawley said the main factor that led to the play in the second half was a lack of confidence.
“I would welcome the day we’re too confident,” Dawley said. “Lack of confidence is always our problem. We just didn’t come out of the gate in the second half and do what we were able to do in the first half.”
Watson said the way to build confidence in the future is for better play as a team to set up better shots.
“Any play that we get to each other boosts our confidence and the whole team feeds off of it,” Watson said. “When we’re not hitting shots and not rebounding, we need to figure out how to keep talking to each other and not forget how good we’ve been playing in the past.”
Aside from confidence, Dawley believes that success will come if the team gives an effort like they did in the first half.
“There’s no reason why if we can do it for 20 minutes, we can’t do it for 40,” Dawley said.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.