UMass women’s basketball hosts Maine seeking first win

By Arthur Hayden

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

“Winless” is a tough word to swallow for any team at any point in a season, but for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, it doesn’t sting too much just yet.

After a hard-fought contest on the road against Central Michigan, when the Minutewomen were just three points away from pulling off an upset victory, UMass is looking forward and isn’t concerned about its 0-2 start.

The focus right now is on the Minutewomen’s home opener Wednesday night, when Maine rolls into Mullins Center. The Black Bears ended the first weekend of their season 1-1, with their win coming in overtime against LIU-Brooklyn on Sunday. Last year, Maine finished the year at 17-15, fourth in the America East Conference.

Guard Sigi Koizar has fueled the Black Bears’ offense so far, averaging 19 points per game through two contests. Containing the 5-foot-8 Austrian sophomore will be a key component of UMass’ game plan on Wednesday night.

Disrupting Maine’s offensive attack should be easier than slowing down the more physical, talented Central Michigan team UMass defended in Sunday’s contest. That being said, the Chippewas still won, thanks in part to surges when Minutewomen forwards Kim Pierre-Louis and Rashida Timbilla were on the bench.

“I think we had that game if Kim didn’t foul out,” UMass coach Sharon Dawley said. “We went quite a period of time with Kim on the bench. They made a run with Rashida on the bench.

“Looking forward, we have to develop to the point that we can play a little bit better without Rashida and or Kim at different times in the game. … We’ve got to develop a rotation where (Rashida) can rest.”

Pierre-Louis has been UMass’ leading scorer thus far, and Timbilla leads the team in rebounds and assists, so figuring out a way to avoid slumps when they come off the court is easier said than done. But if Dawley and her staff can find a way to do that, the win column won’t be empty for long.

This will be the 23rd matchup between the Minutewomen and the Black Bears, and UMass is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s installment of the series. In that game, Maine handed the MInutewomen a 30-point beat down, despite an 18-point effort from guard Emily Mital.
Mital – one of three seniors on the team – has struggled early on, with just eight points through her first two games. Most notably, she is only 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, a spot where she has thrived in years past. Dawley, however, is confident that Mital will find her groove and continue to be a great asset as the team’s main threat from long distance.
“I think it’s a great role for her. She’s a sniper,” Dawley said. “If we can put her in and she’s rested and our opponent is kind of on their heels, I think that’s a great time for her to open the game up for us.”

Tip off against Maine is set for 7 p.m.

On the road again

After a brief stop at Mullins Center, UMass will get back on the road and travel to Denton, Texas, for the “Hospitality Hill Challenge” – a mini-tournament hosted by the University of North Texas. The Minutewomen will take on the hosts on Friday and face Florida State on Sunday.

North Texas finished 12-18 after suffering a litany of injuries last season, but the Mean Green have stumbled out of the gate in their 2014-15 campaign, dropping their first two games.

One player to watch for North Texas is senior forward Briesha Wynn. After transferring from TCU following her sophomore season and sitting out her junior year, Wynn led the Mean Green in points per game, rebounds per game, minutes per game, total assists and total steals.

Once again, Wynn is leading her team in scoring, averaging 12.5 per game over two outings. However, Wynn is shooting only 35 percent from the field. Forcing her to pass or take contested shots could be the key to victory for UMass against North Texas.

Arthur Hayden can be reached at [email protected]