UM makes return to Mullins

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team (8-2) returns to the Mullins Center for the first time in almost two weeks in a tilt against the Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-3) tonight at 7 p.m.

The Minutewomen look to slow down the streaking Eagles, while making up for last year’s 63-45 defeat at the Convocation Center. UMass managed just 13 points in the first half in that game, but they have come a long way since then.

“We’re a different team,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “We never got our feet wet at all. We were tentative, timid and unaggressive. We’re a new team this year and I expect us to come out of the gates fighting hard.”

Dacko’s squad is excited to return home – where they are a perfect 3-0 – but they know that the Eagles will present a challenge on the defensive end.

“Anytime we play in the Mullins Center it’s a good day for us,” Dacko said. “Our transition defense will be key because Eastern Michigan comes down and scores a lot of points. We need to get back on defense, stop the ball and make sure we recover their players. I don’t care who we get but we got to get somebody and then get in our defense.”

The Eagles rebound the ball extremely well – with three players averaging over six rebounds per contest. Junior Patrice McKinney is a force on the glass – averaging 10.7 rebounds – despite playing at the guard position. The trio of McKinney, senior Sarah VanMetre and freshman Emily Hanley combine for 41 points and over 25 rebounds per night.

To prepare for the Eagles’ dominance on the glass, Dacko spent a lot of time in practice focusing on what her team needs to do to minimize Eastern Michigan’s biggest strength.

“We really focused on boxing out,” Dacko said. “We also looked at the film against Buffalo, in order to see where we made a lot of our mistakes. Hopefully we can turn those into positives.”

The Maroon and White will stay at home on Sunday against an 8-1 Delaware Blue Hens team. UMass was dominated by Delaware last season, falling 71-44 in the season opener.

Delaware has won seven straight contests, including a 16-point win over a Kentucky team that was ranked 20th in the country at the time. UMass managed just 15 points in the first half against Delaware in last seasons meeting – including a 4-for-19 shooting performance.

“Delaware is playing some really good basketball right now,” Dacko said. “They’re a very confident team and they present a different challenge. We played like we were a deer in the headlights against them last year. They’re very aggressive and we will have to attack their defensive zone.”

The Blue Hens are led by seniors Tyresa Smith and Chrissy Fisher. Smith leads the team in scoring at 18.8 points per game, and is second with her eight rebounds per game average. Fisher leads the team in rebounding with 8.8 per game, and is second in scoring with just over 16 points per contest. Fisher has a nice touch from the outside, hitting on 12 of her 22 attempts.

The Minutewomen hit a difficult stretch following Sunday’s contest, as they don’t return to the Mullins Center for over a month. UMass has three more non-conference games to deal with before they hit the Atlantic-10 slate of games.

UMass will first have to deal with a Boston College Eagles (8-3) team that slaughtered the Maroon and White by 39 points last season. The two remaining non-conference games are against the Holy Cross Crusaders (4-6) and Yale Bulldogs (2-7). UMass defeated Holy Cross last season and hasn’t met up with Yale since the 1992-93 campaign.

The 14-game conference schedule begins on Jan. 9 with three consecutive road games against the Rhode Island Rams (1-7), Richmond Spiders (4-7), and the George Washington Colonials (8-2). In all, UMass will have six straight games away from home during break.

“It’s a tough stretch,” Dacko said. “Every team in America has these same issues, but unfortunately we have six games in a row on the road. We’re just going to attack them one game at a time.”

The Minutewomen will finally return to the Mullins Center on Jan. 18, for the first of four straight home games. The Temple Owls (4-4) – who dropped UMass last season by 35 points – will be the first opponent during that stretch. Following the first A-10 home game of the season – the LaSalle Explorers (8-1), Saint Louis Billikens (7-3) and the Charlotte 49ers (4-5) will all come to Amherst for pivotal conference games.

It will be imperative for the Minutewomen to begin the conference stretch on the right foot this season, and Dacko knows exactly what her team needs to do to accomplish it.

“We need to beat Rhode Island first,” she said, with a grin.