UMass women’s basketball characterized by youth

By Tom Mulherin

(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)
(Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian)

The core make-up of the Massachusetts women’s basketball team isn’t the kind seen on a typical depth chart, where a squad is usually characterized by a stronger reliance on veteran players.

Instead, the Minutewomen (2-4) have taken a much different appearance, as many of the biggest contributions from the team have actually been from underclassmen.

Built around senior Rashida Timbilla, UMass’ starting lineup so far this season has featured three sophomores and a freshman at point guard. Outside of that group, only junior Kymber Hill joins Timbilla as an upperclassman to have logged at least 20 minutes in a game. Therefore, with so many minutes being allotted to the youngsters, the stage is set for them to play a big part in each contest.

“They contribute a lot,” Timbilla said. “Their attitudes are great. They bring up scoring, they bring up defense. Every aspect of the basketball game, I think, is what our underclassmen give us.”

With that said, some of the veteran players have made their mark as well. Timbilla has been a key cog in the defensive system for a few years now, all while adding a team-leading 8.7 rebounds per game. Hill has made a similar impact, and junior Alyx Stiff has shown scoring abilities with an 11 point game against Ball State on Nov. 28.

The fact of the matter, however, is that the biggest performances have come from the sophomores, as well as freshman Bria Stallworth. Stallworth currently leads the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game. Returning starter Cierra Dillard has established herself as the leader of the offense in the meantime, as her 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game set the pace for the Minutewomen’s balanced offensive approach. Add red-shirt sophomore Alyssa Lawrence to the mix, and you’ll find the group’s top-three scorers to be underclassmen.

“The ability to score,” coach Sharon Dawley said when asked what the upsides of the younger players were. “We’ve seen a lot of scoring punch from younger kids. I would say an upside is different people stepping up in a very early season. We’ve already seen several different people step up.”

Overall, the younger pieces of the rotation have been playing well for the Minutewomen. In the big picture, however, UMass has a losing record entering its second home game on Wednesday. Faced with tough matchups on the road, the team has struggled to maintain consistent play throughout the early part of the season. This led Dawley to address a few development issues that come with having a younger squad, making a point that the learning process takes longer than it does with the veterans.

“Sometimes it’s two steps forward, a step back,” she said. “We might only look like what we’ve been focusing at practice, and something else that we conquered a couple of weeks ago, it might not be up to that standard that we want. … It might take longer than we like, but we’re making strides.”

On top of the already apparent difficulties in learning on the go, such a slow start to a season can normally hinder the spirits of a player of less experience. With the majority of the team made up of such athletes, staying positive is important to find success, and that’s the message Timbilla and the other veterans have relayed.

“It’s a long year,” she said. “Obviously, we didn’t get off to the start we wanted to and we took a couple losses early, but the main thing is to just stay positive each and every day and get better each and every day. They’re keeping their heads up.”

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]