Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s basketball falls short in defensive battle with Buffalo

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Going into Saturday night’s home opener against Buffalo, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s defense needed to be at its best in order to match the defensive-minded Bulls.

Buffalo (3-0) had allowed 38 points and 40 points in its first two games this year, displaying strong team defense, compared to the 63.5 average points allowed by UMass (1-2) in its first two games.

While the Minutewomen did answer this challenge on defense, UMass ultimately fell Saturday in a tightly-contested 56-48 loss at the Mullins Center.

The Minutewomen entered the game with a defensive game plan that included a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone and man-to-man, which were all implemented to varying degrees of success.

UMass coach Sharon Dawley thought the man-to-man defense had more success than the two zone defenses the team ran.

“In our 2-3 and our 1-3-1, I think our weak wing kind of fell asleep on us a little bit, so we had to pull that on and off. Man-to-man we were okay,” she said.

The one area the Minutewomen really struggled defensively was defending Buffalo’s junior guard Joanna Smith. She chipped in 14 of the Bulls’ 29 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers. She finished with 21 points Saturday.

In the second half, the Minutewomen found a bit of an answer for Smith with sophomore guard Leah McDerment coming off the bench. For much of the second half, McDerment was tasked with covering Smith one-on-one, employing a face guard strategy.

Dawley was pleased with the defensive production from McDerment, even suggesting she may have earned herself a starting spot in the future.

“Leah did a great job face guarding (Smith),” Dawley said. “We’ve been playing pack line defense and having Leah come out and face guard is not something we’ve done a lot of, but it was a necessity tonight and I think she did a good job doing it.”

McDerment’s job was to cover Smith as closely as possible and get right up in her face, whether she had the ball or not.

“I was just face guarding her, all over her, and not letting her get the ball,” McDerment said. “I mean, she’s a great player so she’ll still try to find her way, but that was my task, stop the 3-point shot, and I think we did a good job of that in the second half.”

UMass point guard Bria Stallworth thought McDerment’s defensive effort on Smith was the highlight of the game for the Minutewomen.

“I would probably say (Leah was the) best player today,” Stallworth said. “She stepped up when we needed her. She took down the best player and that’s just what we need, the spark.”

Another area the Minutewomen found success on defense was in creating turnovers. UMass forced the Bulls to commit 19 turnovers, a season-high for the Minutewomen.

McDerment led the team with three steals while Stallworth, sophomore guard Cierra Dillard and junior center Kymber Hill each added two steals.

Hill also did a good job on the boards for the Minutewomen, tallying eight rebounds while senior forward Rashida Timbilla has a team-leading 12 rebounds.

Despite the loss, UMass played well enough defensively to win the game and was let down by its offense.

“I think defense wasn’t what cost us the game today,” McDerment said. “Offensively we didn’t convert, we didn’t execute the plays right, we didn’t get what we needed to get in order to make easy layups and make shots.”

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected].

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