UMass women’s basketball turns back to basics amid losing stretch

By Tom Mulherin

(Makoto Yabusaki/ Daily Collegian)
(Makoto Yabusaki/ Daily Collegian)

The start to the Atlantic 10 schedule for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.

In five contests, UMass (6-11, 0-5 A-10) has come away with a five-game losing streak, and each effort plagued by its own lapse of a specific fundamental skill.

As a result, Minutewoman Sharon Dawley ran practices in preparation of UMass’ Wednesday matchup with George Washington (tied for first in the conference) with a focus on improving their own basic skills, opposed to the traditional scout-oriented practice that concentrates more on the other team’s talents.

“The hardest thing to do at this time of year is that everyday is about the next scout, so sometimes it’s hard to fit in just basics,” Dawley said. “You need tune-ups. We’re playing the top team in the conference tomorrow, but yet, we’ve spent the past two days on basics. This week we just decided (the focus should be) about us.”

Dawley believes fundamentals have been the difference in each of the team’s losses. Boxing out for rebounds hindered the Minutewomen in a 74-66 loss to Virginia Commonwealth Jan. 12. The dagger behind a 62-58 loss against Saint Joseph’s was passing. Other games showed poor shooting percentages from the field and the free throw line as well, so Dawley decided it was time for a change in approach.

“We talk a lot about having the right tools in your tool box,” Dawley said. “(The losing) hurts because if we had our tools …we win those games and we go to the next game more confidently. It’s momentum, maturity – we’re battling all that stuff and all those intangibles brought us back to ‘let’s just get back to the basics.’”

Guard Cierra Dillard agrees that the Minutewomen have gotten away from the fundamentals of the sport, all which translate into the recent skid.

“Just focusing on ourselves (is beneficial),” Dillard said. “I feel that a lot of our games that we dropped came down to the last box out or momentum shifted after they got an and-one … basketball comes down to basics a lot. If you come down to basics and take in what practice gives you, you can come out and get a big win like we can on Wednesday.

For what specifically needs to change within a game in order to break the losing trend, Dawley laid out a specific list.

“We can’t rebound the way we’ve been rebounding,” Dawley said. “That’s the Achilles heel. We have to stop the ball earlier, higher on the floor. We have to talk more on defense, have our hands up in our zone and we have to box out in the zone.”

Dawley believes UMass has shown tremendous strides addressing all of those aspects over the past two days. Throughout practice, she cited a hard-working atmosphere in the gym, leading her to feel confident heading into Wednesday’s contest.

“We’re going there pretty confident,” Dawley said. “We’ve had two really good practices so I’m fired up about that. I wish we had a crystal ball and I can tell you (focusing on basics) was the right decision, but you got to do what your gut tells you to.”

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]