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UMass women’s basketball heads to North Dakota for two games

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team will go on the road this weekend for the first time this season, facing North Dakota State on Friday before taking on North Dakota on Sunday.

NDSU is 2-0 this season, with their wins coming against Mayville State and NJIT. Still, UMass (2-0) will face an unbeaten team with a strong offense.

“We got to go out there, we’ve got to play really hard,” coach Tory Verdi said. “We know what they can do offensively, they have a bunch of skilled perimeter players. We’ve got to identify them, we’ve got to know where they are. We’ve got to contest shots. But more importantly, we’ve got to stop them in transition.”

NDSU eclipsed 85 points in both wins, and its three-point shooting was a major reason why. On the season, the Bisons have hit more than 40 percent of their three-point attempts, led by senior Taylor Thunstedt, who has gone 7-13 on three-pointers. That efficiency has driven what has been a high-scoring offense so far in the season.

“Their perimeter game is very solid,” Verdi said. “They can shoot the three, so we’ve got to make sure that we identify personnel. They do a great job of attacking in transition offensively, so we’ve got to sprint, we’ve got to get back and we can’t give them good lay-ups. So if we take that away and we’re out there on the perimeter, we make them shoot tough twos, it’ll put us in position to win a basketball game.”

UMass beat NDSU early last year for one of their nine wins, but senior Leah McDerment remembers it as a tough game that tested the Minutewomen’s defense.

“They played really hard and they tried to exploit our weaknesses in the zone,” McDerment said. “They were very good at skipping the ball out, trying to make us move and react on defense, and get their shooters open. So that’s what we’re going to work on in this game is just shutting down their outside shooters and then being active on defense.”

UMass started the season with two impressive wins over Maine-Fort Kent and Towson that gave reason for optimism, but with a very young team, Verdi said that there was still plenty of room for improvement.

“Our defensive transition hasn’t been as good as I would have liked,” Verdi said. “We’re giving up, last game we gave up 10 points, we’ve had some teams beat us down the floor. We were there but we didn’t protect the basket first, we kind of fanned out and played a player instead of taking the basket first. So that’s one area that we’re trying to improve on.”

Following that game, the Minutewomen will face North Dakota on Sunday. This will mark the first time that these two programs have played each other.

North Dakota won 20 games last year and lost a close game in the season opener against No. 17 Oregon State Friday. Compared to the two teams that UMass has played so far, North Dakota will provide a much stiffer test.

“It will be a very good basketball game,” Verdi said. “They played Oregon State the other day to the wire, and playing somebody who’s [No. 17] in the country, that being Oregon State, and giving them a game tells them that they’re solid. But again, this game and this week is more about us and I’m looking forward to our players going out there, facing some adversity, fighting through that, coming together and executing on both sides of the ball.”

Despite the tougher opposition this weekend, McDerment said that the mentality would remain the same.

“I think it’s more of just maintaining the same aggression no matter who we’re playing against,” McDerment said. “Going into the games thinking about, ‘this is how we play’, and that will dictate how the game turns out. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s about us.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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