Minutewomen look to end losing streak against Rhode Island on Wednesday

By Tom Mulherin

Photo by Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian
Photo by Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

After a hotter-than-usual start to the season for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, the second half of the schedule has brought less good fortune. Entering Wednesday’s matchup at Rhode Island, UMass is in the midst of an alarming four-game losing streak.

The Minutewomen (8-12, 2-6 Atlantic 10 Conference) have been a tough team to score on all year, even in their recent slump. Offensive output, however, has dipped 10 points per game in the recent scoring drought compared to the rest of the season, with double-team coverage on go-to scorer Kim Pierre-Louis being the difference.

With that much attention on Pierre-Louis, UMass coach Sharon Dawley said finding other ways to score is one of the keys in their matchup against the Rams (12-8, 4-4 A-10).

“We need other kids to step up and score for us,” Dawley said. “Prior to Kim being double-teamed, she was scoring a ton of points for us. Now people are defending us differently – sagging off and not defending some (players) so they can double or triple-team Kim – and we don’t respond to that well as a team.”

“Defenses are making it really hard for Kim to score. We need her to distribute a little bit more and we need players to be able to hit shots,” she continued.

Before defenses started to double Pierre-Louis, she put up big numbers for the Minutewomen and led them to a surprising 8-8 start. But when she has been double-teamed, the offense has run into some major issues. Unfortunately for UMass, Dawley recognizes that the coverage on Pierre-Louis isn’t even the most challenging concern URI brings to the matchup.

“(A) key to (Wednesday) is to not let their pressure bother us,” she said. “I think their pressure defense is the biggest challenge. If we execute what we’ve been working on, we can actually get some good looks from it. I’m hoping that history repeats itself and that pressure will not bother us.”

On the defensive side of the court, UMass has struggled recently compared to its performances earlier in the season. But even though Dawley acknowledged the defense needs to step up in order to play to its full potential, Rashida Timbilla has still been a dominant force in the paint.

After all, she is just one rebound away from 200 total rebounds for a third consecutive year with eight games still to play. Only five players in program history have reached that milestone, the last being Jennifer Butler from 1999 to 2003.

“(Timbilla) is awesome,” Dawley said. “I don’t think she realizes just how good she is. The rebounding is spectacular, the defense is spectacular. I don’t think there’s been many women in the program that have had the numbers she has in terms of being close to a triple-double on many occasions.”

“She’s even a better leader than she is a rebounder,” she added. “So, she brings us the whole package. We just need her to score a little more for us.”

Despite their recent struggles, Dawley still likes the Minutewomen’s chances against Rhode Island.

“We’ve had a couple of really good practices,” she said. “We have a lot of fight in us and we obviously can beat anyone in the conference if we are able to put a good offensive and defensive performance together in the same day.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Ryan Center in Kingston, Rhode Island.

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]