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UMass women’s basketball wins second consecutive nailbiter

Massachusetts’s women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley knew that with a young roster it was going to take some time for her team to get acclimated to playing at such a competitive level.

Cade Belisle

However, just five games into the season, with back-to-back nail biting wins only three days apart, this Minutewoman team is gaining confidence quickly, and showing no signs of slowing down after a 63-59 win against Hartford on Saturday.

“I was really happy with our team’s performance on the defensive end,” Dawley said. “We had a couple big shots from [Jasmine Harris] and [Emily Mital] late in the second half, but it was our ability to defend and get to loose balls that kept us in this game.”

Trailing 51-46 with 9:23 remaining, Rashida Timbilla dished the ball out to an open Harris, who buried a deep 3-pointer to cut the Hawks’ lead down to just two. Less than two minutes later, Harris drilled another straightaway three to give UMass a 52-51 lead, its first lead since the 14:44 mark of the first half.

While it might have been Harris who ultimately gave the Minutewomen the lead with her back-to-back triples, no one arguably deserved more praise for her play than center Kim Pierre-Louis.

The junior finished the game with a career-high 19 points to go along with nine rebounds.  Seventeen of her points came in the second half, while seven of her nine rebounds were on the offensive end.

“I was just trying to score,” Pierre-Louis said. “They weren’t guarding as well as they could have so I just had to be aggressive and attack the basket.”

Since being removed from the starting lineup after the first game of the season, Pierre-Louis has been playing with a chip on her shoulder. And while her energy and efforts haven’t shown much on the stat sheet this season, she was finally rewarded on Saturday.

“Some talented players play much better coming off the bench,” Dawley said of her center. “She’s emerged as the spark for us. She likes to take in the tempo of the game for a few minutes before coming in, and because it’s worked out so great, things are going to stay that way.”

Up 54-53 with 4:58 remaining, UMass was set to inbound the ball with only one second remaining on the shot clock. Once again, it was Pierre-Louis making her presence felt, as she set a screen along the baseline to free up Mital, who buried a corner 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and give the Minutewomen a 57-53 lead.

But Hartford (1-2) wouldn’t go away. After a pair of free throws from Cherelle Moore, and back-to-back field goals from Amber Bepko, the Hawks cut the UMass lead down to just two at 61-59.

Then, after a missed Nola Henry free throw, and a defensive stop on the ensuing possession, Pierre-Louis was fouled with the ball in her hands. She then calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws to clinch the win.
“I was confident,” Pierre-Louis said. “The only thing going through my mind was that this is a two-point game with two seconds left so I have to finish this.”

Dawley said her team is continuing to gain confidence.

“We are definitely a more confident team on defense that’s for sure, and our offense will build off of that,” Dawley said. “Every game someone different steps up on offense so we are going to keeping rolling with that.”

The Minutewomen return to action this Tuesday at 7 p.m. when they travel to Holy Cross.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at arcyr@umass.edu, and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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