First-round exit for Minutewomen in Ohio

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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The NCAA Tournament has yet to start, but that didn’t stop the Massachusetts women’s basketball team and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies from partaking in their own March madness on Friday night in Cincinnati, Ohio.

St. Bonaventure (16-14) rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to stun the Minutewomen, 63-60, and end the Maroon and White’s season in the first round of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

“I think our team gave it away,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “But at the same time St. Bonaventure did what they needed to do. They came right at us and we had no defensive presence whatsoever, and that’s not the mark of a UMass team. So that’s where my disappointment came from.”

“To give up a game that we should have won easily is a huge disappointment for us,” junior captain Kate Mills said. “We definitely gave that game away, and everyone on the team is very upset and in shock that we gave that game away to St. Bonaventure.”

UMass (17-13) seemed to have a hammer-lock on the game early in the second half after a quick 15-0 run increased the lead to 45-29 with 15 minutes left to play. Before they knew it, the Minutewomen trailed the Bonnies just eight minutes later, 50-48, following a 21-3 St. Bonaventure surge.

The score remained close the rest of the game, as neither team held a lead larger than three points from there on out. Trailing in the final minute by just two points, the Minutewomen had three opportunities to tie or take the lead, but failed to capitalize on any of them.

Down by two with 57 seconds remaining, Mills went to the free-throw line for two shots. She hit the first attempt, but failed to connect on the second. Trailing by just a lone point, UMass had another chance following a missed shot by Maripier Malo with 31 seconds to go.

The jumper by Mills didn’t fall with 17 seconds left on the clock, and the Minutewomen were forced to send the Bonnies to the line for a one-and-one. Malo missed the front end at the foul line, and junior Pam Rosanio grabbed the board – giving the Minutewomen one last chance at the victory, trailing by just one.

Rosanio had the chance to be the hero when she took a runner in the lane with just three ticks left in the game, but her shot rattled out and the Bonnies added two more free-throws to finish the comeback victory.

“I think in past games we’ve played to win, and then for some reason I think we played not to lose this game,” senior Tamara Tatham said. “We were up big two different times in the game, and they came back and fought, and we didn’t have an answer. I’m very disappointed.”

“The team took this loss so hard, and I’ve never seen this team react like that,” Dacko said. “In spite of them being very down, I was kind of happy to see that because no one was pointing a finger at any one person. They thought long and hard about their own performances, and I think they all felt they disappointed themselves, as well as the team and UMass.”

The Minutewomen appeared to be in control early in the contest after rattling off 18 consecutive points to take a 20-6 lead. But after connecting on eight of its first nine shots, UMass closed the first half just 4-for-22 from the field. Despite the struggles on offense, the Minutewomen still led 29-23 at the break.

The Bonnies hit two quick triples in the second half to cut the lead to 30-29, but UMass once again seemingly pulled away after registering 15 consecutive points to increase the lead to 16. A consistent array of turnovers, missed shots and failed freebies at the line allowed St. Bonaventure to claw back into the game.

“We were turning the ball over and not getting what we wanted on offense, and they were coming down and scoring on us,” Tatham said.

“We just weren’t able to put the team away,” Mills said. “We had two big leads, one in each half, so to not be able to put the team away was a huge mistake on our part.”

UMass shot itself in the foot, shooting just 12-for-23 from the charity stripe, including pivotal misses late in the game. The Minutewomen also failed to capitalize on their 13 offensive rebounds, parlaying them into just nine second-chance points. UMass committed fewer turnovers than its opponents, but the Minutewomen aided St. Bonaventure’s cause by turning the ball over in crucial spots in the second half.

That small opening was all that star senior Audrey Latendresse and the Bonnies needed. Latendresse came out scorching hot in the second half, scoring 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting – including 3-for-5 from the outside and a perfect 2-for-2 from the line.

In the final game of her collegiate career, Tatham led the Minutewomen in scoring with 16 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Mills was the only other player in double figures for UMass, registering a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“My heart goes out to Tamara,” Dacko said. “I’m certainly disappointed for her to end her career on that game.”

Mills had the most dramatic moment of her career – in a very unusual fashion – when she joined Tatham and 14 other players in school history with 1,000 career points. Mills recorded the milestone on a rare 3-point shot – her first of the entire season, and just the third of her career – to tie the game with four minutes left to play.

“She’s a really good player and I’m proud of her,” Tatham said. “She’s been our leader all year, and I’m happy she got her 1,000th point.”

“I wasn’t thinking about it during the game, but afterwards people came up to me and congratulated me,” Mills said. “It was nice, but I would rather have had a win over the Bonnies.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]