Pierre-Louis, Dillard shine in UMass victory over Holy Cross

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Sharon Dawley had seen this before.

As the Massachusetts women’s basketball coach paced the sideline Sunday at the Mullins Center — her team in the midst of building a double-digit second-half lead over Holy Cross — she had a flashback to two years ago, when the Minutewomen found themselves in a similar situation.

It was Nov. 25, 2012, and UMass had built up a 56-48 lead over the Crusaders with four minutes, 22 seconds remaining. But, as Dawley put it, UMass’ offense turned “sloppy” when Holy Cross pressured them in a full-court press. It enabled the Crusaders to reel off nine straight points over the course of two minutes to take a 57-56 lead. Ultimately, Holy Cross held on.

The Minutewomen (5-4) again faced a similar situation, as 59-47 UMass lead shrunk to 59-53 with 4:27 remaining. But this Minutewomen team doesn’t resemble the three-win squad in 2012, and didn’t recoil when the Crusaders went on the defensive.

Instead, UMass forward Kim Pierre-Louis responded, sinking a layup as she was fouled to re-extend the lead. She hit the ensuing free throw, just one of her 27 total points, a career high, and led the Minutewomen to a 71-62 victory.

“When (Holy Cross) got within eight, I had flashbacks to two years ago,” Dawley said. “We lost that game because our press offense got a little sloppy and they made those threes. I think that’s why we were so neurotic this week about press offenses.”

The Minutewomen handled the Crusader (2-8) press with relative ease and were even more effective in stopping Holy Cross’ outside shooting. The Crusaders shot 34 percent from the field and were 8-of-32 on 3-pointers.

Holy Cross head coach Jim Gibbons said following the game that the loss was a “make or miss” game. The Crusaders missed on a number of opportunities, especially early in the second half, and UMass made the most of its opportunity.

The Minutewomen erased a 30-29 Holy Cross halftime lead, going on an 8-2 run to start the second half. The Crusaders briefly rebuffed, cutting the deficit to 39-36, but a subsequent 11-4 UMass run opened the lead to 50-40. The pace of the game quickened substantially over that stretch and played into the hands of the Minutewomen.

“We talked more about energy,” said Dawley, who thought her team was fatigued in the first half, to which she attributed to the first game off a week of final exams in the classroom.

“We needed more energy on the floor, on the bench, things like that. I think it was more just a mindset. We had to go out and get the first punch in the second half.

At the forefront of the surge was freshman guard Cierra Dillard. She scored 17 of her 21 total points in the second half and added six rebounds and four assists.

“Everyone on staff was like ‘I think “C” needs a break’ and I was like , ‘Nah, I think she’s fine,'” Dawley said with a laugh. “Someone who has the ability to take over a game, you’re very reluctant to take them out for rest.”

Dillard thought space opened up for her in the second half when Holy Cross made a conscious effort to defend the post against the likes of Pierre-Louis.

“I think teams are really scouting my passing ability,” Dillard said. “Of course, with Kim dropping 27 points, they’re going to double her and I see that. As their center is backing off, I see that the floater is really open as I get around the guards or get into 1-on-1’s.”

UMass controlled the paint throughout the game, outscoring Holy Cross 40-18. Dillard and Pierre-Louis combined to score 48 of UMass’ 72 points.

The Crusaders were coming off an 80-64 victory over Boston College. Holy Cross forward Raquel Scott led the Crusaders with 25 points and 11 rebounds. The Minutemen surpassed their entire win total from last year (four) with the victory Sunday.

“I thought it was a really good team win,” Dawley said. “I think Holy Cross, their record doesn’t show how good they are. I think they had a slow start, but really romped BC on Wednesday, so we were playing a hot team today. It was great to come out with a win.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.