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January 3, 2018

Minutewomen look to keep momentum going against UMass Lowell

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team will go on the road to face UMass Lowell on Wednesday as they look to continue the momentum of three straight wins.

UMass is coming off an impressive win over Saint Peter’s on Sunday that moved them to 7-4 on the year. More discouraging is a 1-3 record on the road, which makes Wednesday’s road game vital as the Minutewomen gauge their ability to play in a hostile environment. The environment will be completely unfamiliar on Wednesday, as UMass has never played at UMass Lowell.

“I’m looking for us to go there and be really good and be systematic right from the start,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “We’ve got to have great energy, great focus. We’ve got to have a want-to off the charts. I’m expecting us to show up and dictate right from the start.”

UMass Lowell is 3-7 on the year and coming off a loss against Fairleigh Dickinson, but has the ability to score the ball as it averages nearly 70 points per game.

“They’ve got a couple shooters,” Verdi said. “We’re going to fly around and be active. We’ve got to identify where they are and contest shots.”

One player Verdi identified as a threat was Kayla Gibbs, a senior forward who has helped power their offense. When these two teams last met in 2015, Gibbs scored 13 points for a weak UMass Lowell offense.

“[Gibbs is] a very good power forward,” Verdi said. “She’s averaging 11 points and 6 offensive rebounds a game, so they’ll look to score a ton of points in the paint. So, we’ve got to do a great job of protecting the interior.”

The Minutewomen head into Wednesday’s game with a three-game winning streak after hovering around .500 in the first eight games. During the winning streak, UMass is averaging 95 points and fewer than 50 points allowed, including a game against Fisher College where the Minutewomen broke a number of offensive records. However, two of the opponents they faced during that stretch, Saint Peter’s and Fisher College, also account for two of the River Hawk’s three wins.

Verdi said that the streak was encouraging after UMass rebounded from some early-season struggles.

“I think definitely some progress has been made, and it’s going to be continuous all year long,” Verdi said. “When you add seven new faces to four returners, you’re going to have ebbs and flows, it’s going to be a roller coaster ride. But I’m looking forward to seeing us be a little more consistent, and I thought we were a little more consistent the other day.”

For senior Leah McDerment, the wins were a reflection of better teamwork from the Minutewomen.

“We’ve got a lot more team chemistry,” McDerment said. “We’re 11 games in now, so it’s becoming second nature, just knowing what each of our strengths are.”

Despite coming out on top on Sunday, Verdi said that there were areas that needed to improve for Wednesday. Notably, UMass struggled early against Saint Peter’s and trailed going into halftime, which Verdi attributed to lack of energy from the Minutewomen.

“I thought we were a little flat coming out in the first period,” Verdi said. “We’ve got to do a better job, have a little bit more energy and have more ball pressure.”

From a technical standpoint, Verdi said that the Minutewomen had to get more defensive rebounds.

“We’ve got to do a better job of boxing out on the weak side,” Verdi said. “We can’t allow teams to fly in from the weak side and get second-chance opportunity points.”

Wednesday’s game will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Costello Athletic Center at UMass Lowell.

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

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