Minutewomen try to exorcise demons

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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It may be in the city of brotherly love, but Alumni Stadium – the home of Saint Joseph’s, and tonight’s opponent – has been anything but welcoming to the Massachusetts women’s basketball team (12-10, 2-5 Atlantic 10).

UMass will look to exorcise its demons – it has three wins and 20 losses at Alumni Stadium – when the ball is tipped off at 7 p.m. in a crucial conference matchup for both teams.

If the Maroon and White wish to garner respect from within the conference, it needs to register the win against a tough Hawks (12-10, 3-3 A-10) team. The game’s importance is not lost on UMass coach Marnie Dacko.

“I think every game is essential,” she said. “We’re in it to win it, but I think we’ve got to be able to manage the ball more and believe in ourselves.”

Due to the team’s recent struggles, the confidence level of her players has left Dacko a bit concerned.

“When you don’t win ballgames and you lose leads, that will cause the players to doubt themselves,” she said. “It becomes difficult when you don’t have someone that carries your team day in and day out. I think there’s a little doubt, but I think they’re still confident and the coaches certainly believe in them.”

The team’s confidence level will really be put to the test if senior forward Tamara Tatham is unable to play due to an ankle injury sustained in practice on Wednesday.

“Right now I don’t know if she’s going to play,” Dacko said. “It’s touch and go right now. She didn’t practice on Wednesday after the injury, or on Thursday.”

If the Minutewomen are forced to play without Tatham – the squads leading rebounder and second-leading scorer – the plan to pound the ball inside against Saint Joseph’s may have to be altered.

“Well, we want to get inside and the plan is to attack the middle,” Dacko said. “[Erica] Pollock is their only post player per se, so we have to be able to get the ball inside, but we need Tamara to be healthy to do that.”

While the Minutewomen find themselves looking up at Saint Joseph’s in the standings, the Hawks have their eyes set on leapfrogging a few teams to maneuver into the top half of the conference. They’ll likely rely on what they usually do – launching and draining countless three-pointers – to do just that.

“They like to shoot the three and we need to defend against that,” Dacko said. “There’s not necessarily a game plan to defend the three-point shot. We just need to defend.”

UMass will have to defend the perimeter against a team that has knocked down a staggering 131 trifectas – more than 6.5 per contest – which is good for 57 more triples than the Minutewomen have hit.

Leading the way for the Hawks from the outside are sophomores Jenna Loschiavo and Jen Oyler, each of whom have hit over 40 shots from downtown. Loschiavo is particularly deadly, connecting on a robust 43.6 percent on her 101 attempts.

As if that wasn’t enough for the Minutewomen to deal with, neither of those two players even lead the team in scoring – that honor goes to senior guard Ayahna Cornish, who averages 15.7 per night.

These two teams have met a total of 47 times, and the Maroon and White has only escaped with a victory in eight of them. The Hawks repeatedly dismantled the Minutewomen, claiming each of the first 20 encounters in the history of the matchup. From 1999-2004, they met 11 times, with UMass failing to come out on top even once.

Don’t blame any of this on Dacko, though. She has led the Minutewomen to three straight triumphs over their nemesis from Philadelphia, including one at Alumni Stadium two years ago.

Eli Rosenswaike is a Collegian staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected]