UMass struggles to find groove

By Michael Wood

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

There has been one fundamental problem plaguing the Massachusetts women’s basketball team in games that it has lost.

Unfortunately, it is something that is difficult to play through and even harder to fix.

The Minutewomen (6-14, 2-3 Atlantic 10) do not play well during the crucial times in the game that matter most, and in close games they seem to lack the consistency needed to take a lead and close out a game.

“You’re going to make mistakes, everybody does,” UMass coach Sharon Dawley said. “Our problem at Saint Joe’s was that we had a lead and we came out in the second half and had about six dry trips [down the floor].”

“If you can come down and score on two of those six, pretty much you hide your sins from earlier in the game,” Dawley added.

One of, if not the most important time in a game, is the opening minutes and for UMass, getting off to a fast start. When it’s not able to do that, the team struggles and fails to assert itself and falls behind early in the contest.

In a game against Richmond earlier in the season, the Minutewomen didn’t score a basket until four minutes into play, and were down, 23-4, after seven minutes. The team didn’t reach double-digits in points until midway through the first half. They went on to lose that game by almost 30 points.

Compare that to a game against Brown, where UMass came out and led, 14-2, after five minute and it’s easy to see the effect a quick start has on this team. The Minutewomen won that game, defeating the Brown Bears, 78-55.

“We’ve had that problem of coming out of the gate a little slow,” Dawley said. “I think we’ve remedied that now. We’ve come out of the gate a little better in the last few games and hopefully we’ve solved that problem. And if we’ve remedied the start of the game, now we have to remedy the end of the game.”

Last weekend against Saint Joseph’s, the Minutewomen demonstrated their other major flaw. They were ahead with less than two minutes left in the game, but bad defense lead to an easy shot and a one-point lead for the Hawks. Three foul shots later, the game was entered into the loss column on UMass’ schedule.

In every game there are moments which define what the outcome will be. A simple turnover or bad foul at one of these times can change how a game finishes. Those final seconds of play were the most important of the game and unfortunately for the Maroon and White, they were not quite able to gain the upper hand.

“Sometimes we push it too hard,” Dawley said. “And when we make a mistake we try too hard after to make up for that mistake and we end up worsening things and not letting the game come to us so we can close it out.”

While they are not tallying many wins, Dawley and her players believe they will compete at the end of the regular season schedule and take some late momentum into the A-10 conference tournament.

“I hate to go back and look at things that way,” Dawley said. “If we don’t have [Jasmine Watson’s] injury, some foul trouble and some minor things, we’re probably looking at 12 wins instead of six wins.”

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]