Minutewomen host BU in home opener

By Mike Mastone

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team will attempt to start its season off on the right foot this Sunday as the team plays host to Boston University in their 2009-10 season opener.

The Minutewomen have been hit hard at the guard position due to graduation and injuries, and are without two of their leading scorers from last season. With a team full of roles yet to be defined, UMass coach Marnie Dacko is starting the season without a starting lineup set in stone. The eight-year coach has decided to enter the season opener with a nine-player rotation.

“We have an offense geared around five people scoring on the floor, with a lot of bench participation,” Dacko said. “So when we’re going (eight or nine) people deep there are a lot of people getting playing time, and we have to refine that. We’re a very fit team, so we really want to keep the game up-tempo and move and share the basketball. And the bottom line is play solid defense.”

Dacko also said the team worked hard to improve its defense over the preseason, citing it as a main weakness from a year ago. The Minutewomen allowed 67.8 points per game last season, the second-highest mark in the Atlantic 10. Only Saint Louis had a worse mark, allowing teams to score at a rate of 68.5 points per game.

“I think the big thing is that we want to play defense,” Dacko said. “No matter what BU runs against us, we want to get stops. And I think that is our focus point, getting stops and really rebounding the basketball and having that ignite our offense.”

Like UMass, BU has been hit hard by graduation. The Terriers lost all four of their double-digit scorers from last season, most notably 2008-2009 America East Player of the Year Jesyka Burks-Wiley.

Their best returning scorers are senior Aly Hinton and sophomore Alex Young. As a junior, Hinton averaged 8.0 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game, while Young finished her freshman campaign with 4.1 points per game in 30 appearances. Hinton can also be a force on the defensive end, as she finished tied for second on the team with 13 blocks last season.

“We’re excited to be home at the Mullins Center,” Dacko said. “We scrimmaged Sacred Heart here on Sunday, so we’re looking to make improvements this week. [Boston University] is predicted as one of the top teams this season. They have a seasoned club and they’re strong. I just think we have to take it a game at a time, but certainly it’s nice to get one at home and an early win.”

In last year’s match up, Boston University beat UMass, 82-75, in Amherst and held the lead for all but 11 seconds. The Minutewomen took an 11-10 lead with 15:09 remaining in the first half, but the Terriers then tied the game at 13 and never looked back.

Stefanie Gerardot led UMass with 23 points and went 3-for-5 from 3-point range, while Diatiema Hill set a new career-high with 15 points in 30 minutes of action.

The Terriers open their season tonight at Kentucky, while Sunday’s match up is the first of the season for UMass. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

Mike Mastone can be reached at [email protected]