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May 9, 2016

UMass women’s basketball looks to build momentum against Saint Joseph’s

Nola Henry puts up a jump shot against Rhode Island on Sunday, Feb. 23. The Minutewomen won 69-56. (Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian)

Nola Henry puts up a jump shot against Rhode Island on Sunday, Feb. 23. The Minutewomen won 69-56. (Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian)

Backed up by an aggressive offense and active press defense, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team defeated Rhode Island on Sunday, to pick up its first victory since Dec. 17.

Now, the Minutewomen (4-24, 1-13 Atlantic 10) are heading into Thursday’s game against Saint Joseph’s (20-7, 9-5 A-10) with the potential for a winning streak on their minds.

Prior to Sunday’s game, UMass coach Sharon Dawley said that the team had decided to implement a press defense from early on in the game against the Rams. As a result, the Minutewomen scored 18 points off of 19 caused turnovers. Heading into Thursday’s matchup against the Hawks, Dawley said that early pressure will once again be part of the game plan.

“We pressed early to get everyone aggressive, and we’ll do the same thing (on Thursday),” Dawley said. “We just have to not get exhausted and stay out of foul trouble. But we’ll throw it in there to get everyone going again.”

Dawley added that maintaining similar aggression on offense will be important in attacking Saint Joseph’s “smart” defense.

According to Dawley, his includes the inside play of sophomore Rashida Timbilla and junior Kim Pierre-Louis. Timbilla is coming off of a 20-point performance, while Pierre-Louis finished with 13 rebounds against Rhode Island.

In addition, Dawley said that the scoring prowess shown in recent games by sophomore Jasmine Harris will be crucial. Harris has scored in double figures in nine of the team’s past 10 games.

“I’m just planning on coming in with the same type of aggressiveness,” Harris said. “But it’s not about playing to score but playing to win.”

As for the Hawks, Dawley said that senior guard Erin Shields and junior guard Natasha Cloud are “two of the best players in the conference,” and therefore the Minutewomen must limit their opportunities to score.

In particular, Dawley said that it will be important to not leave Shields open on the perimeter, where she is shooting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line this season.

“If she’s open from 3 (point range), she’s going to nail it,” Dawley said.

In addition, Dawley said that rebounding in the post, which has been a problem for UMass all season, will be critical against a Saint Joseph’s team that “may not be the fastest or strongest, but still aggressive” on the boards.

With two games remaining on the regular season schedule before the A-10 Tournament,  Harris said that the Minutewomen are peaking at the right time.

“It would be great Cinderella story if UMass came out and won the A-10 Tournament,” Harris said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do.”

However, Dawley said that it is important for the team not to overlook Thursday’s opponent.

“Momentum or no momentum, we have some business to take care of, and if we don’t take care of it early, we’ll be in trouble. But if we do what we are capable of doing, which is being aggressive and boxing out, it’ll be a great game.”

Senior night

Prior to Thursday’s game at Mullins Center, the Minutewomen’s only senior, Kiara Bomben, will be honored.

The starting forward is averaging 6.6 points per game for UMass as she prepares to play in her final home game.

“I think after the game it’ll hit me, but I just want to go in focusing on getting a win and doing what I can for my team,” Bomben said. “It’s going to be surreal, and I’m excited for it.”

Dawley said that she hopes that Thursday’s ceremonies will have a positive effect on Bomben’s play.

“Sometimes, they get really upset and it escalates them into another league and they play great, but sometimes, it’s the opposite,” Dawley explained. “So you take a deep breath, and you hope that it catapults them into having a great game.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at achiusanoumass.edu and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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