Minutewomen see variety in 2011-2012 season

By Michael Counos

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team announced its 2011-2012 season schedule Thursday, giving head coach Sharon Dawley and her team the chance to prepare for a new season.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Dawley guided her team to a 7-23 overall record in her debut as UMass head coach last season. The team went 3-11 in Atlantic 10 play, giving them the 11th seed in the A-10 tournament, where they lost to Charlotte in the first round, 77-66.

The Minutewomen begin the year with 12 non-conference games before Christmas. UMass faces opponents from 12 different conferences this season, including nine teams that secured post-season berths last year.

UMass gets underway with two consecutive home games beginning with a match on Sunday, Nov. 13 against Boston University. Three days later, Central Connecticut visits the Mullins Center just before the Minutewomen hit the road to face Miami (OH) and Holy Cross. UMass has seen its share of success against Holy Cross in recent memory, defeating them last year, 75-50.

The Minutewomen then host Mississippi,  marking the first time UMass has hosted a Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponent since 1998.  A three-game road trip against Quinnipiac, George Mason and Boston College follows immediately thereafter. The Eagles defeated the Minutewomen in a high-scoring affair last season, netting 93 points to win, 93-80.

UMass will look to avenge losses from last season in their subsequent three games, facing Providence, Maine and Binghamton; the first two of which will be at home. The Minutewomen then play Siena before traveling to the Cavalier Classic in Charlottesville, Va. on Dec. 28 and 29.

To start the new year, UMass finishes up non-conference play against Harvard at home, to whom they lost to last season, 83-70.

A-10 conference play begins at home against Saint Joseph’s on Jan.7, 2012. The Minutewomen will look for the same good start they had last season, when they began conference play with a 2-2 record before a tough stretch of seven consecutive losses. Saint Joseph’s topped the Minutewomen last year by just four points.

Next up is Rhode Island, whom UMass defeated last year twice, netting 75 points in both matchups. New to this season’s schedule are three doubleheaders, where the Minutewomen will travel and play with the men’s team in back-to-back games. The first of these three doubleheaders comes on Jan. 14 against Richmond. The Minutewomen and men have two more doubleheaders scheduled against Fordham on Jan. 28 and St. Bonaventure on Feb. 8. The Minutewomen lost to all three of these teams last season.

“We are really excited [about] the A-10 schedule,” said Dawley in a UMassAthletics.com interview. “I think my favorite part is that we have three doubleheaders with the men.”

UMass then hits the toughest stretch of its schedule mid-January when it faces three of the conference’s top-five teams from last season. Dayton, which finished fifth, Duquesne, which finished fourth, and Charlotte the runner-up in the A-10 tournament last season, all pose a significant threat to UMass’ hopes of returning to the postseason.

On Feb. 11, UMass faces Temple, which was 13-1 in conference play last season. The Minutewomen then wrap up the season with games against the bottom portion of the A-10, facing off against Saint Louis, George Washington and Rhode Island.

“It helps that some of the teams at the top of the conference have graduated some amazing players, so in one sense it evens the playing field a little bit,” said Dawley in the same interview.

The Minutewomen will need to pick up some momentum before ending the season at A-10 powerhouse Xavier on Feb. 26. The Musketeers were undefeated in conference play last season and won the A-10 tournament. The game is the only one of the Minutewomen’s season that will be televised on CBS.

“It’s nice to have gone through the league one time,” Dawley continued. “I think as we get better and our freshmen help us out this year, I think our style will be implemented and I think we will be a little bit stronger in the conference.”

Michael Counos can be reached at [email protected]