Jones leads Minutewomen over Villanova with career game

By Neil Carroll

whoopBSophomore Nicole Jones redeemed herself in the second game of the weekend for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team by recording career highs with 22 points and 12 rebounds in Sunday afternoon’s 55-47 victory over Villanova.

Jones had great success against the Wildcats’ (2-1) defense, as she contributed heavily to UMass’ 24 points in the paint. The center bounced back with the stand-out performance after missing a hook shot with time expiring in the first game of the UMass’ (2-2) weekend slate against New Hampshire on Friday night.

“Nicole Jones is the same one who fouled at New Hampshire and gave New Hampshire the opportunity to go to the foul line, and she certainly redeemed herself today,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said.

UMass’ defense held Villanova’s leading scorer, Maria Getty, to two points in the game. Getty averaged 12 points per game coming into the matchup. But through an aggressive defensive effort from Diatiema Hill and Kim Benton, the Minutewomen limited the guard’s scoring opportunities. Hill also stood out by adding 12 points and eight rebounds in the win.

“I think our bigs came out and played a great game of basketball,” Dacko said. “And I think we controlled the tempo and the boards.”

Though Nova’s Heather Scanlon, Laura Sweeney and Tia Grant finished with 12 points each, the Minutewomen evaded a comeback by the Wildcats by contesting shots and rebounding in the second half. Scanlon and Sweeney also finished with nine and eight rebounds respectively.

At halftime, Nova was up by three, but UMass showed its mettle by sustaining a comeback and holding off the Wildcats.

With two minutes, 47 seconds to play, Nova had cut the UMass lead to two points on a Grant 3-pointer. However, after a jumper from Hill and a block by Jasmine Watson on the ensuing possession, the Minutewomen stretched the lead for good.

Although UMass’ leading scorer Kristina Danella was held to just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field, the sophomore added seven rebounds and three assists. Through four games this season, Danella is averaging 14.5 points and six rebounds per game.

The win came after the Minutewomen suffered a last-second 58-57 loss on Friday night against UNH (2-2) that came down to the final possession for the Minutewomen.

UMass’ Jones caught an inbounds pass with 2.3 seconds left on the clock and drove into the lane for a hook shot as time expired. Jones’ shot missed short, and the Minutewomen were handed their second loss of the season.

“Our lack of execution at the end – we didn’t come up with the board, and [Nicole Jones] fouling – is just what it came down to,” Dacko said after Friday’s loss. “It’s a hard one to let go because you were right there and you played a hard road game, but they fought back and we just had some breakdowns.”

The Wildcats played a zone defense in the first half that forced UMass to hit shots from behind the arc. Once the Minutewomen successfully adjusted and took a 35-26 lead at halftime, UNH coach Kristin Cole switched her team into man-to-man defense in order to stifle UMass’ offense.

Early in the contest, the Minutewomen fell behind 7-2, but were kept in the game when Meghan Zullo hit two 3-pointers to rally UMass into an 11-10 lead with 13:05 remaining in the first half. Zullo finished the game with 14 points, making 5-of-9 shots from the field.

“I thought that we handled the zone very well,” Dacko said. “We knew that they were going to play a 2-3 zone and we shot well enough to get them to pull them out of it, they went to man-to-man and surprisingly enough, that’s when we stopped executing.”

UMass had a 17-point lead two minutes into the second half, but that margin was cut to four points with 7:54 left in the game.

“We took too many quick shots on offense when we had the lead and when we should’ve exhausted the clock,” Dacko said.

Danella tied Zullo as UMass’ leading scorer with 14 points as well. Similar to the team’s first game against Boston University, she was fouled by UNH with 39 seconds left in regulation and UMass down 56-55.

The sophomore again showed ice-cold resolve as she hit two free throws to put UMass up by one and time winding down. UNH gave the ball to Candace Williams and she missed a lay-up with less than 20 seconds left, but after another missed lay-up and a rebound, Jill Mcdonald was fouled by UMass’ Jones as she went for a loose ball.

With 12 seconds left, Mcdonald hit two free throws and put her team up by one for the final possession of the game. Mcdonald played a large role in the Wildcat’s win as she finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in the game.

Neil Carroll can be reached at [email protected].