For the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, the math is final. With three games left, UMass (3-23, 1-10 Atlantic 10) has statistically been eliminated from the Atlantic 10 Tournament conversation.
Even if the Minutewomen win out the rest of the season, they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with conference-rival La Salle, which pulled out a 68-57 win at the Mullins Center on Jan. 30.
UMass closes out a two-game homestand Sunday against Duquesne (19-6, 8-3 A-10).
Assistant coach Allison Brown said that while the Dukes should beat the Minutewomen on paper, Duquesne has holes in its game that UMass will look to exploit.
“They’re obviously one of the top teams in the conference,” Brown said. “Those three (conference) losses were all to the top three teams, but I think them coming off two losses will be in our favor. And (us being) at home as well.”
Brown said the Dukes’ motion offense and tendency to set ball screens will create chances for her team to pressure ball handlers, leading to turnovers.
A winner of 15 of its first 16 outings to start the season, Duquesne is powered by junior forward Wumi Agunbiade and freshman guard April Robinson, who averaged a combined 22.5 points per game.
Brown also said UMass’ high-tempo makeup will allow it to keep up with covering opponents and shut down 3-point shooters who typically see a lot of minutes on the floor.
“We’re going to need to go as deep as they do,” Brown said. “They play 11 kids, almost all of them average up to 10 minutes. That’s been our (modus operandi) as of late, so I think we’ll be able to stay with them in that respect. They like to push the ball, we like to push the ball.”
Adopting a motion offense of their own in the dying weeks of the season, the Minutewomen have seen their new style click, but in bursts. Freshman guards Jasmine Harris and Adriana Jordan, along with sophomore forward Kim Pierre-Louis have anchored a youthful group that has shouldered a bulk of the scoring load in recent games after responding well to the new offense.
Brown said the younger group has found a groove because they are proactive on the floor.
“We asked them just to come in, leave it all out there and they did exactly that,” Brown said. “Being aggressive and attacking, kids coming up with plays that we didn’t even ask of them, is something that’s huge.”
Although scoring leader and senior center Jasmine Watson and sophomore guard Carolann Cloutier remain the most prominent point-getters, Brown supports giving creative liberty to freshman when running the motion offense.
Saying the new offense is a lot more about playing pure basketball, she thinks the freedom has allowed freshman to contribute more.
Brown is hoping an upset win against the Dukes will spark a strong final week for the Minutewomen.
“We know that each of these games, it’s it own entity, but we need to win all three,” Brown said. “We’ve been talking about all of our freshman and young kids bringing that energy and the leadership of our veteran players to steady them along the way is going to be critical.”
Sunday’s tip off against Duquesne is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.