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May 8, 2017

UMass women’s basketball cruises past Merrimack 73-44 Sunday

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team earned its third straight victory with a 73-44 win on Sunday at Mullins Center against Merrimack, thanks to a strong second half where UMass outscored the Warriors by 19.

The Minutewomen (4-2) jumped out to a 17-9 lead after the first quarter, but a rough second quarter where UMass converted just two out of 14 shots from the field kept Merrimack (2-4) in the game before a halftime speech from coach Tory Verdi helped lead the Minutewomen to a dominant second half performance.

“We had a rough start,” freshman Hailey Leidel said. “We were a little rattled and we weren’t really playing like ourselves, but at halftime coach really refocused us and we had a great third quarter and I think that really pulled us together and what made our win seem so great.”.

Leidel led the Minutewomen with 26 points in the win over the Warriors, going 9-for-12 from the field, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Leidel now leads the Minutewomen with 17 points per game and earned the Atlantic 10 rookie of the week award on Monday for the second time already this season.

“I think it’s special. It’s good news to hear because we’ve been putting so much work in, everyone has so much faith in me here. I’m happy I can produce on the court and get an honor like that for the school. I think it’s great,” Leidel said.

Verdi has been pleased with what he’s seen from the young guard to start the season.

“Hailey is a freshman with a lot of confidence. She obviously has a tremendous skillset. Doing what she’s doing right now for us, it’s quite an accomplishment,” Verdi said.

UMass added double doubles from sophomore Jessica George, the first of her career, and junior Maggie Mulligan, her fifth straight game with a double-double, leading the A-10.

“It’s not really a focus of mine,” Mulligan said about securing so many double-doubles. “I think that just the privilege of being able to play 40 minutes every game, I’m able to do that, and I feel like I need to score a lot because we have such limited numbers [of players.]”

The Minutewomen’s five starters in the game against the Merrimack (Mulligan, Leidel, George, Leah McDerment and Ryan Holder) all tallied at least 34 minutes as UMass still finds itself short on players due to injuries.

Verdi said after practice on Monday that he’s hopeful senior Alyx Stiff and redshirt-junior Alyssa Lawrence will be able to return to game action next week, which would provide UMass with some much-needed depth.

The 29-point victory over the Warriors comes on the heels of a 39-point win against Central Connecticut State in the previous game. For a team that has battled so much adversity early in the season with a number of injuries, these big wins give the Minutewomen a nice confidence boost.

“I just think it gives us a little bit of confidence knowing that we can put five players on the floor and we can do something special. Understanding that regardless of our limited roster, we can still go out there and win basketball games,” Verdi said.

The Minutewomen will be back in action again on Wednesday when they go on the road to take on Hartford, a team that UMass beat last season but needed a 26-point comeback to do so.

“Hopefully we don’t have to have such a stressful game, but I think it will be good,” Mulligan said.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at jrcushman@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Jamie__Cushman.

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