Senior Day a let-down for UMass

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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It leaves coaches shaking their heads and looking for answers. It’s the play of Xavier freshman phenom Amber Harris, and she’s giving Atlantic 10 personnel headaches this season.

UMass coach Marnie Dacko and the rest of the women’s basketball team (15-12, 5-7 A-10) could’ve used some aspirin after dealing with Harris and suffering a tough defeat, 75-67, against the Musketeers (21-7, 9-3 A-10) on Sunday.

The Minutewomen struck down Duquesne (7-18, 2-10 A-10) on Friday, 70-57, and would have moved into a tie for sixth place on the conference with a victory on Sunday.

But Harris and a balanced Xavier team wouldn’t oblige. Harris – who notched a record-tying 11th conference Rookie of the Week honor on Monday – led four players in double figures for the Musketeers, scoring 18 points. She also grabbed 14 rebounds and sent five UMass shots in the opposite direction, adding to her school-record 113 blocks for the season.

“Amber Harris,” Dacko said, when asked what the difference in the game was. “Her size, her presence, I think our kids backed off of her a little bit. We needed to take a charge and we needed to get her into foul trouble, and we failed to do either. Were we intimidated? Maybe we were a little bit. You’d have to ask my kids that.”

Xavier began the game scorching-hot from the field, jumping out to a 9-0 lead just 90 seconds in. It got even worse for the Minutewomen as Xavier’s guards – Suntana Granderson and Michele Miller – were unconscious from the perimeter, connecting on their first five combined 3-point shots. Before you knew it, Xavier had a 17-4 lead within the first 3:30, and the 900-plus fans in attendance were deafening.

The Musketeer lead swelled to 17 midway through the first half, but 12 points from junior Kate Mills and Xavier’s return to reality from the field helped cut the lead to 41-32 by halftime.

It took just three-plus minutes in the second half for the Maroon and White to even things out, knotting the game up at 44 apiece. Being that it was senior day for UMass, it seemed only fitting that Tamara Tatham – the team’s lone senior – helped lead the way during the second half surge.

Tatham scored three of the first five buckets for UMass in the second half, en route to a 16-point, 10-rebound performance in her final game at the Mullins Center.

“The team loves Tamara and the coaching staff loves Tamara,” Dacko said. “She’s a tremendous player at UMass and she’s going to be sorely missed. She’s probably the most complete athlete that I’ve coached here.”

On the strength of freshman Kim Benton’s third and final 3-pointer of the game, the Minutewomen pulled ahead for the first time in the game with 10 minutes left to play. They extended the lead to 61-57 but Xavier put the game away for good with an 11-0 run to seal the 75-67 win.

Tatham’s double-double, coupled with a career-high 25 points from Mills weren’t enough to down the Musketeers in the end. Xavier capitalized on 16 UMass turnovers – eight of which were committed by Tatham – resulting in an 11-point advantage in points off of turnovers.

“In the past years we would be down 17 and we wouldn’t come back,” Tatham said. “We’d all be down on ourselves, but this year is different. We knew this was our last home game and we knew we had the talent and ability to come back, and that’s what we did. We just fell a bit short.”

Harris notched a double-double in the second half, scoring 10 points and bringing down 10 rebounds. But perhaps the biggest key in the second stanza was the effort of Xavier center DeAnna Mason. She was a force under the basket, registering seven offensive rebounds in the second half alone, nine in total.

“We gave up too many offensive rebounds,” Mills said. “That killed us. [DeAnna] Mason had a big game for them and if that keeps happening, we’re going to have a tough time down the stretch.”

“I’m happy with our effort, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t do a good job boxing out,” Dacko said. “We simply gave up too many second-shots. I think it’s hard, because they’re a real athletic team. They’re great ball players, and when you look at some of our players, we’re not as athletic as they are, and we need to be able to do better things to make up for our lack of athleticism.”

UMass executed coach Dacko’s gameplan of getting the ball inside and taking high-quality shots, but many of their close-range attempts rimmed out.

“We were in the game at the end, but if we had made our lay-ups we would have won,” Dacko said. “We got the ball exactly where we wanted it, in the paint and a step away from the bucket, and we couldn’t finish. When we go to the film, the players are going to be sick, because they ran the offense to perfection.”

The Minutewomen had no such problem on Friday, connecting on a majority of their lay-ups, en route to a 13-point triumph over Duquesne. Mills preceded her monster effort on Sunday with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Her effort over the weekend earned her A-10 co-Player of the Week honors.

The Dukes shot their way into a 36-30 first-half lead, thanks to a 6-for-12 effort from behind the arc. UMass capitalized on Duquesne’s poor second-half shooting, outscoring the Dukes 40-21 to take the victory. Tatham led the way with 19 points on the strength of 8-for-10 shooting.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]