UMass women’s basketball loses battle in the post in season opener

By Andrew Cyr

Massachusetts women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley knew going into this season that there was going to be some growing pains with 12 underclassmen on her roster.

Unfortunately for UMass, its early season jitters resulted in a first half offensive struggle and a 66-58 loss to Western Michigan in its season-opener at Mullins Center on Friday night.

Maria Uminski/Collegian File Photo

The Minutewomen (0-1) had their hands full all night with the frontcourt from Western Michigan. Michelle O’Brien’s nine points and 17 rebounds and Miracle Woods’ 19 points and 11 rebounds caused mismatches inside for UMass, which shot just 22-for-69 from the field. Many of the misses came within 10 feet of the basket.

“We had a bad shot selection that lead to no offensive rebounds,” Dawley said.  “We forced a lot of shots from the weak side and no one was in position to grab our misses.”

No one struggled more inside than forward Rashida Timbilla. She was one of the top returning scorers from last year’s team with 8.6 points per game. But Timbilla was held scoreless, going 0-for-5 from the field and 0-for-4 from the free throw line.

Starting center Kim Pierre-Louis also struggled on the offensive end, going just 3-for-11 from the field. Pierre-Louis also let her frustration boil over, receiving a technical foul for slamming the ball after she disagreed with a call inside, which lead to her fouling out of the contest.

However, not all was negative for the Minutewomen, who received excellent play from the backcourt of Nola Henry and Emily Mital.

“I wish [Henry] would look to get herself going more in the first half,” Dawley said. “She’s so explosive. She was trying to set her teammates up too much and I wish she would look to attack the basket more.”

Henry, who finished with a team-high 13 points, got to the rim with ease with her ability to change directions quickly and break the press. The sophomore point guard also dished out five assists and came away with three steals.

Kiara Bomben, the lone senior on the roster, drilled a transition 3-pointer with 3:56 to go gave UMass a sign of life.

Despite finishing with just five points and shooting 2-for-9 from the floor, Bomben was forced to move inside during the final stretch of the game after Pierre-Louis fouled out and Timbilla’s struggles kept her on the bench. Bomben grabbed seven rebounds, but also shut down Woods in the process, stripping her twice after she caught the ball in the post.

“I would give Kiara the player of the game even though her stat-line didn’t show it,” Dawley said.   “Her effort showed more than anything tonight.”

Luckily for the Minutewomen, their frontline will get the services of the familiar face of 6-foot-2 forward Paula Tarnachowicz in their next game to help with their problems around the basket. Tarnachowicz was inactive on Friday with a concussion.

Dawley and her team can’t think about this loss for too long as UMass is right back in action when on Sunday when it hosts Mid-American Conference opponent Central Michigan at Mullins Center at 1 pm.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.