Not much has gone right for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team this season. Now looking up at the other 15 Atlantic 10 teams and with its losing streak stretched to double-digits, there’s ample reason for pessimism about the lost season.
But after the final 20 minutes of UMass’ 79-60 loss to visiting Charlotte on Wednesday, the feeling among Minutewomen coach Sharon Dawley and her players was decidedly more optimistic than gloomy.
Trailing by 24 points after a first half riddled with bad turnovers and even worse shooting, UMass (3-23, 1-10 A-10) looked like a physically and mentally-defeated team ready to let the game start slipping away. And with the Minutewomen playing their second game in as many days after severe winter weather forced a postponement of its road matchup with Rhode Island until Tuesday, it would’ve been difficult to blame them.
Instead, UMass burst out of the break a hungry, changed team.
Feeding off the energy of its bench and a shooting performance that rose from 24 percent to over 58 percent after halftime, the Minutewomen took charge of the game and outscored the 49ers, 43-38, in the second half.
“We liked what we saw in spurts tonight,” Dawley said. “We actually scored more in the second half than we did (the entire game) against URI yesterday, so we were obviously more pleased with the offensive effort today.”
Considering her team’s second-half effort against one of the best teams in the conference, Dawley said she was as pleased as can be following a 19-point loss.
“I feel like there’s a lot of hope out of this loss (compared to) other losses we’ve experienced because we saw a lot of youth doing great things, and we saw people just deciding, ‘I’m going to take over,’ she said. “And I think Rashida (Timbilla) made that decision multiple times today. I thought Kim (Pierre-Louis) made that decision the minute she got on the floor, and that’s great to see.”
While Timbilla, who scored 11 points – all in the second half – and pulled down eight rebounds, has been a consistent force for UMass all season long, the strong efforts of late from Pierre-Louis have come as a nice surprise. She’s mostly been used in mop-up roles off the bench late in games this season, but has scored in double-digits in two of the past three games while serving as a gritty source of effort and heart for her teammates.
“I thought Kim did a remarkable job playing against these elite post players,” Dawley said, “coming up with 11 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes. Pretty impressive.”
Pierre-Louis added, “I just try to do my best to help the team. You know, coach gives me a chance and coach always talks about trying to make the most of your minutes. So, that’s what you gotta try to do.”
As impressive as they played to close out the game, the Minutewomen played equally as poorly in the first half. Charlotte (21-4, 10-1 A-10) set the tone with an 11-0 run to open the game before hammering UMass into the deficit it never recovered from with a 19-6 scoring stretch over a 10 minute, 41 second period later in the half.
Four 49ers scored in double-digits to lead the offensive attack, including a game-high 17 points from Ny Hammonds and 15 points from first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection Jennifer Hailey.
Still, Dawley was impressed with the way her team fought blow-for-blow with a Charlotte team that didn’t pull its starters up 30-plus points early in the second half.
“Well, this team is pretty remarkable in the sense that we’ve struggled offensively, and we’ve dropped a lot games, but these kids are the most resilient kids I’ve ever met,” she said.
Even freshman walk-on and Amherst native Victoria Stewart, who’s played a large role in encouraging and inspiring her teammates this season, got in on the second-half action, notching her first collegiate point with a free throw off the bench.
“When someone gets rewarded for being a great kid and being a great worker,” Dawley said, “that’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re doing this for.”
Also scoring in double-digits for the Minutewomen was Jasmine Watson, who scored a team-high 14 points and recorded six blocks. Watson and fellow senior Dee Montgomery are scheduled to play only three more games in their collegiate careers with UMass.
The first of those games will come at home against Duquesne on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.
Daniel Malone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.