UMass women’s basketball takes a step back amid losing streak

By Arthur Hayden

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Much has been said about the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s resurgence this season following a streak of subpar, single-digit win campaigns. Few would argue against the claim that this UMass squad has competed at a higher level than any other during coach Sharon Dawley’s five-year tenure in Amherst, and the numbers appear to support that.

The last time the Minutewomen won more than eight games – the total they currently hold this season with eight regular season games left to go – was in 2010 when they finished with 11 victories.

Dawley and company have started to inspire some long-awaited optimism, instilling a bit of energy in a program that has been stuck at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 conference in recent years. However, no return to success comes without roadblocks, and UMass currently finds itself stuck in a bit of a rut.

The Minutewomen have lost four games in a row by an average of 19.5 points, dropping their overall record – which sat at 8-8 on Jan. 15 – to 8-12. Over the course of the losing streak, the biggest cause for concern is a failure to put points on the board. Over the first 16 games of the season, UMass averaged just under 63 points per game. That average has dropped to 49.3 points during the losing streak.

“Offensively there weren’t a lot of sparks” Dawley said after the most recent loss to St. Bonaventure, “We struggled once we fell behind.”

Senior forward Kim Pierre-Louis has been the centerpiece of the Minutewomen offense all season, leading the team in points in all but five games this year. But opposing defenses have begun to focus in on her in recent weeks, limiting her effectiveness. Pierre-Louis has failed to reach her season average in points per game during the skid, while her teammates have generally been unable to fill the void.

Pierre-Louis, who ended the game against St. Bonaventure with a team-high 14 points, had just one basket in the first half. When she finally found her rhythm in the second half, the game was essentially out of reach, thanks to a combination of sloppy defense from the Minutewomen and an accurate shooting night from the Bonnies.

“I decided to be a little more aggressive,” Pierre-Louis said. “Time was pressing and we needed some

(Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian)
Rashida Timbilla puts up a shot from inside the paint. (Alex Aritan/Daily Collegian)

more offense so I took it upon myself to make some baskets and create opportunities for my teammates as well.”

Unfortunately, Pierre-Louis’ inconsistencies have paralleled her team’s. Despite the emergence of freshman guard Cierra Dillard and decent play from all-purpose veteran forward Rashida Timbilla, this Minutewomen team has been prone to long scoring droughts that leave them playing catch up by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.

Cream of the Crop

While an offensive drought has played a major role in UMass’ current state of affairs, another reason for their losing streak is the higher quality of opponents over the last few games. The first loss of the streak came to the top team in the conference, George Washington. Three days later, the Minutewomen came in as large underdogs again facing Fordham, a defensive powerhouse. Those programs are simply on a different level than UMass at the present time, and those losses did not surprise many, regardless of how much progress UMass has made throughout this season.

But back-to-back 20-point losses to Richmond and St. Bonaventure, two middle-of-the-pack A10 teams? Those are the kinds of games that the Minutewomen will have to start winning in order to take the next step in their rebuilding process.

“There’s not a team you can be relaxed going up against. All we can do is regroup,” Dawley said. “We have to be tougher on each other and we have to demand more from each other.”

The Minutewomen will get their chance to get back on track on Wednesday night when they travel to Rhode Island at 7 p.m.

Arthur Hayden can be reached at [email protected]