Minutewomen’s bench plays a key factor in new-look season

By Frank Corona

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

As quickly as critics were to write off the Massachusetts women’s basketball team at the beginning of the season, pegging them as the 14th seed in the Atlantic 10 conference out of as many teams, they are just as quick to realize that this team is not the same one that took the court last season.

“This is a much different team than last year,” head coach Sharon Dawley said. “It’s a comeback team, it’s a deep team. We do a great job sticking together and we do a great job defensively.”

Despite falling 75-62 against fellow in-state opponent Harvard on Wednesday, Dawley was quick to praise her bench, and has been doing so quite often this season. Although the game was another loss for the Minutewomen, a certain facet of the game opened up a lot of eyes to those who were watching.

With a new defensive philosophy, and a faster rate of play being the highlights of this past off-season’s modifications, the bench’s play has been the most pleasant surprise of this season success story.

In seven games, UMass has had the same starters in every game – Leah McDerment, Cierra Dillard, Rashida Timbilla, Kim Pierre-Louis and Kymber Hill. With a consistent lineup comes the need for a consistent and reliable bench to balance out the attack. After coming off of a career-high, 11-point game in their come-from-behind victory against Central Florida on Sunday night, redshirt junior Amber Dillon and the rest of the bench kept the Minutewomen in the game against Harvard.

“To me, I like coming off the bench better because I can see everything that’s going on and see what I have to do if we’re down,” Dillon said.

“(Dillon) is a starter, but some people have the personality where they like to watch the game a little,” Dawley said. “She’s doing great watching the game and then going in making a difference.”

Another veteran leader that UMass leans on coming off of the bench has been senior Emily Mital, who is currently fourth on the team with 5.6 points per game this season. Mital started all 31games for the Minutewomen last season and has adjusted nicely to her role off the bench. With UMass struggling at times from the free throw line, Mital’s been the most consistent shooter at 81.8 percent.

Freshman Maggie Mulligan had a breakout game on Wednesday, finishing with 10 points and added three rebounds to the mix. Standing at 6-foot-2, Mulligan’s size has meshed well with the team’s tough down low presence, but is still able to run the floor, which has been a key part of the team’s success so far this season.

“The kid (Mulligan) comes in, put in crunch time, put her in a tough situation and she’s defending Temi (Fagbenle) who’s a phenomenal basketball player. I think she did a great job on her and then pours in 10 points for us, gets key offensive rebounds for us and just plays with a lot of guts,” Dawley said after the Harvard game. “I see Maggie developing into someone who is going to play more and more the more we run motion, because she’s a big with guard skills. I think she’s just getting better everyday.”

With a lot of the focus this season on the Minutemen’s leading scorer, Pierre-Louis, and the do-it-all Timbilla, the team is slowly finding solace at the end of their bench. With the continuation of impressive play also comes increased moral, something that UMass has failed to achieve in recent years.

Although the Minutewomen are 3-4 in the first seven games, their bench will be a pivotal piece moving forward as conference play approaches.

Frank Corna can be reached at [email protected]