Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s basketball looks to get back on track in Omni Hotels Classic

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

After starting its season off on a positive note with a 74-60 win over Holy Cross, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team has dropped two straight games.

With a last second loss to Harvard last Wednesday and a defeat to Buffalo Saturday in its home opener, UMass (1-2) now finds itself in need of a crucial win to get its season back on track early on.

But for the Minutewomen, getting back to the .500 mark will not be an easy task as they take on Colorado (2-1) out of the Pacific-12 Conference in the first round of the Omni Hotels Classic held in Boulder, Colorado.

According to UMass coach Sharon Dawley, the Minutewomen welcome the tournament as an effective preparation tool for later season games in Atlantic 10 play.

“I always like playing up because there are many teams in our conference that are dangerous,” Dawley said about taking on Power 5 conference teams like the Buffaloes.

“Taking on teams like Colorado raises the level of our game and will allow us to prepare for what A-10 competitiveness may look like.”

The Buffaloes are coming off an 86-61 loss to No. 13 Kentucky, but in their previous three games, they won by an average of 16.5 points per game.

The Pac-12 conference team is a led by a very strong offensive attack that has averaged 72 points per game this season.

Colorado has three players averaging double digits in scoring coming into the game. Freshman guard Kennedy Leonard leads the team with 13.7 points per game. Senior forward Jamee Swan is close behind with 13 per game, while junior forward Zoe Beard-Fails averages 11 per game.

Dawley feels her team will be prepared for the challenge Friday.

“I think it just comes down to us continuing work on defense, both man and zone,” Dawley said. “The beauty of this game is they run the same offense we do, so this week we get to just work on our own stuff, while simultaneously working on defending it.”

If UMass wants any chance to have success this weekend it will need to see a bigger scoring output out of sophomore guard Cierra Dillard. Dillard, the Minutewomen’s leading returning scorer, was expected to be the offensive leader this year but has struggled since her 21-point opening night performance against the Crusaders. In the two games since she has scored eight and five points respectively.

Dillard is aware of her struggles but doesn’t feel like it will slow her or the team down moving forward.

“I think every good player gets in a slump,” Dillard said. “We haven’t (been) playing well as a team. There are definitely some kinks that need to be worked out, but these are fixable things, so in the long run we should be good.”

Despite the fact that the Minutewomen have seen great offensive performances out of freshman guard Bria Stallworth, who is averaging 17 points per game through three contests, they will need more help on the offensive side of the ball.

Dillard believes it will be important to get everyone going offensively to be success this season.

“When a team has multiple scoring threats it just opens up the whole court for everyone,” Dillard said. “I know I trust in all my teammates to make the shot and make the next play, so it comes down to us having confidence in each other to come through.”

Only Stallworth and Dillard are averaging more than 10 points per game thus far.

A major issue in Saturday’s game against the Bulls was turnovers, as UMass committed 23 on the day. The team has averaged 17.3 a game so far this season.

To quell these issues, the Minutewomen are working on practicing offensively in the half court with pressure defense, and Dawley is hoping this will help the players make better decision-making and in turn cut down on their turnovers.

Tip off for Friday’s game against Colorado is set for 9:30 p.m. The winner of that game moves on to the championship matchup against the winner of the Ball State/Florida game Saturday, while the losers play in the consolation game.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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