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January 3, 2018

UMass women’s basketball defeats Saint Peter’s for third straight win

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team defeated Saint Peter’s 81-65 Sunday, pulling away in the second half to secure its third straight win.

UMass (7-4, 0-0) trailed by two at halftime, but came back with 23 points in the third period to take the lead for good. Saint Peter’s made several charges to attempt a comeback in the fourth, but the Minutewomen finished strong to seal the win.

“I thought we did a lot of really good things in the fourth period today,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “One thing you’re really happy with is that we faced adversity; we could have gone either way. And when you’re facing that type of adversity you[‘ve] got to look it in the eyes and I thought our players did a great job of fighting it and overcoming it.”

After allowing 36 points and 60 percent shooting from the field in the first half, the UMass defense stiffened coming out of halftime. Saint Peter’s scored only 12 points in the third period as the Minutewomen staked a nine-point lead.

“They did a pretty good job of attacking the zone,” Verdi said. “I thought in the first half we didn’t have the energy that we needed to have. We made the defensive adjustment of going man in the second half and I thought that paid dividends for us. I thought we did a good job of matching up and keeping them in front of us and I think that changed the overall complexion of the game.”

UMass forced 17 turnovers and had 10 steals, both slightly below its season averages. Starting guard Genesis Rivera said that improving the defense was a constant focus for the Minutewomen.

“We always focus on rebounds and defense,” Rivera said. “I think that’s the key every single game. Every single night you’re trying to get rebounds and play some defense. That’s going to get us where we want to be.”

On offense, UMass ran through Rivera and Bre Hampton-Bey, who scored 23 and 20 points respectively and accounted for all of the Minutewomen’s three-pointers. Hampton-Bey, who came in averaging three steals a game, also added four steals against Saint Peter’s.

“They’re so dynamic offensively. We know they can score in bunches, especially [Rivera],” Verdi said. “And the fact that [Hampton-Bey] just gave us an unbelievable second half of attacking the basket and knocking down shots for us. You look at that type of performance for a freshman, it’s huge. We know what [Hampton-Bey’s] capable of doing, and I’m just glad that I get the opportunity to coach her another three years after this.”

Going into the game, Verdi cited pressure from Saint Peter’s as an anticipated challenge. Despite expecting the pressure, the Peacock defense held strong early in the game, keeping the game close in the first half before UMass pulled away.

“We knew [pressure] was coming, we were prepared for it, but [then] it’s game time and all of a sudden you’ve got two people running at you,” Verdi said. “You’ve got to attack the gap and you’ve just got to be solid in your passes. And I thought after the first couple possessions that we got used to it and were able to break it and make them pay for it.”

With the win, UMass improved to 7-4 on the year and 5-1 at home. The victory marked the third straight for the Minutewomen, following wins over Mississippi Valley State and Fisher College.

Verdi said that the Minutewomen have improved over the winning streak, particularly in turnovers, which have been a season-long concern.

“We’re always talking about [how] we [have] to value the basketball and take care of it,” Verdi said. “You don’t want to have empty possessions and you don’t want teams to score off of your turnovers, especially high ones. So I thought we did a great job of taking care of the basketball here tonight.”

UMass will return to action on the road against UMass Lowell at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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

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