Height advantage helps lift UMass women’s basketball to win over Hofstra

By Jamie Cushman

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Cierra Dillard’s game-winning four-point play is what most people will talk about following the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s 57-56 victory over Hofstra Wednesday night, and rightfully so.

Although Dillard’s shot will lead the highlight reel, the height advantage of the Minutewomen (3-4) helped keep the game close and put Dillard in position to win the game.

The Pride (7-2) starting lineup did not feature a single player over six feet with the team’s leading rebounder this season, sophomore forward Ashunae Durant, standing at just five feet 10 inches. Durant came into this game averaging 10.3 rebounds per game and finished with nine in the defeat.

Meanwhile, the Minutewomen starting lineup included two players over the six-foot mark with senior forward Rashida Timbilla at six-foot-one and center Maggie Mulligan at six-foot-two.

UMass also had two six-footers as a part of its bench. Sophomore Alyssa Lawrence (six-foot-one) and junior forward Kymber Hill (six-foot-two) both contributed solid performances in their reserve role.

The Minutewomen got out to an early lead, mainly due to Hofstra’s inability to shoot. The Pride shot just 18 percent in the first half, helping UMass jump out to a 27-20 lead at the half. When Hofstra mounted its comeback in the second half, the Minutewomen’s height advantage became more important.

“I just thought our size came into play later in the game,” UMass coach Sharon Dawley said. “We did a better job against their duck-ins and we had a time where our box outs weren’t as good and as soon as we firmed that up, then we had a fighting chance.”

Bringing in big players like Lawrence and Hill off the bench gave UMass a decided advantage. Dawley was impressed with the leadership that Hill put on display, rallying the team together and sacrificing her body for the good of the team.

“Down the stretch in that last six minutes her hustle plays were crazy good,” Dawley said.

Lawrence’s combination of speed and size also helped the Minutewomen secure their third victory of the year.

“Alyssa came in and made a difference right away with her rebounding, her athleticism, attacking the rim,” Dawley said. “I’d be hard pressed to say there’s a lot of people that can stop Alyssa if she’s on offensively.”

Lawrence finished with 14 points and nine rebounds while Hill finished with 10 points and six boards. The duo of Hill and Lawrence were at their best in the fourth quarter, contributing 12 of the 18 Minutewomen points in the final frame.

The lone exception to the Minutewomen’s height advantage was Hofstra’s junior center Sandra Dongmo. Dongmo, a 6-foot-4 native of Cameroon,  was clearly the tallest player on the court, and she took advantage of it.

Dongmo finished with 12 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards. Her ability to keep possessions alive offensively helped spark the Pride’s comeback.

“They had multiple possessions with multiple offensive rebounds, and that hurt us,” Dawley said. “Their transition threes and their offensive rebounding were their comeback.”

Hill was tasked with guarding Dongmo at various stages in the final frame. She used her technique and fundamentals to match up with Dongmo, despite giving up a couple of inches in height.

“For each possession I played her shoulder to shoulder because I know she’s a dominant post,” Hill said. “Every time she got the ball I’d go shoulder to shoulder.”

 

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]