Battle of the bottom: UMass women’s basketball travels to La Salle Wednesday

By Adam Aucoin

(Maggie Mulligan and Rashida Timbilla try to gain control of the ball. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

(Maggie Mulligan and Rashida Timbilla try to gain control of the ball. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

It’s been close, but not close enough.

That’s been the story of the last four games for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team.

UMass (6-16, 0-10 Atlantic 10) is mired in a 10-game losing streak and has lost its last four games by an average of five points, coming within one point in its 80-79 loss to Rhode Island on Jan.27.

The Minutewomen are in search of a- victory and their next – and best – chance to get back into the win column comes Wednesday when they take travel to La Salle.

The Explorers (3-20, 0-10 A-10) enter Wednesday’s game marred in a similar struggle as UMass, losers of their first 10 conference games and 11 games overall.

Despite the struggles of their opponent, Minutewomen coach Sharon Dawley is not taking La Salle lightly.

“La Salle is very similar to us. They are competitive in every game,” Dawley said. “Preparation has been the same going in. Every game is a big game. The next opponent is always the most important, so we aren’t going to take them lightly.”

Despite their struggles this season, Amy Griffin has shined for the Explorers as she leads the A-10 in scoring with 18.3 points per game.

Redshirt sophomore forward Alyssa Lawrence believes the Minutewomen need to keep an eye out for Griffin every time she’s is on the court.

“We just have to play her honest when she’s on the court,” Lawrence said. “We know she is going to make some shots just based on her ability. We just need to make sure we are playing consistent defense to slow her down.”

Dawley harped on Lawrence’s statement about Griffin, and had UMass spend multiple days of practice going over different game plans for slowing down the A-10’s leading scorer.

“We worked a lot these past few days on defending (Griffin) one-on-one, but we will need a lot of help from our bigs to help slow her down,” Dawley said. “We worked a lot on clogging the lane to stop her penetration. She is very explosive, so we’ll need to be ready for that.”

Around Griffin, La Salle has seen solid scoring from junior forward Micahya Owens, who averages 13.2 ppg. Outside of those two, the Explorers have struggled to score as they average only 57.8 points a game, which is good for 12th in the A-10 leading only Richmond and Fordham.

La Salle’s size advantage will be a factor Wednesday. With the exception of 5-foot-9 guard Jasmine Alston, the rest of its players are 5-foot-11 or taller. The average height of the Explorers team is almost 6-foot-1, compared to UMass who has an average height of approximately 5-foot-11.

With the size of La Salle, the Minutewomen will need a big day from their post players including, Lawrence, Rashida Timbilla, Maggie Mulligan and Kymber Hill, especially with their play on the boards. Of the four, Timbilla has been the most consistent rebounder for UMass averaging 9.2 rebounds per game, which good for second in the conference.

Dawley has put an extra stress on rebounding in preparation for the size of the Explorers.

“Our boxing out has been much improved over the past couple games, but it will need to top-notch on Wednesday,” Dawley said. “They have one of the tallest starting lineups in the conference, so it will be important for us to get in front and box out if we want to win the rebound battle.”

With the UMass looking to break a rut it’s been in since their last win against UMass Lowell on Dec. 30, Lawrence believes they will need a team effort in order to break through.

“We just need to come together,” Lawrence said. “When we come together and go on runs, we all feed off of that and it goes from there. It will take a total team effort if we want to get back in the win column.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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