UMass women’s basketball looks to ride momentum of five-game winning streak into A-10 tournament

By Adam Aucoin

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

The 2015-16 season has been a year of ups and downs for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team.

UMass (11-17, 5-11 Atlantic 10) started off the season with a 6-6 record heading into A-10 play before losing their first 11 conference games.

But the Minutewomen recovered with a five-game winning streak down the stretch, moving from last place in the A-10 to the No. 11 seed in the conference tournament.

Now UMass looks to continue that hot play as it begins the A-10 tournament Wednesday night with a rematch against No.14 seed La Salle.

Minutewomen coach Sharon Dawley is hoping the momentum from the last stretch of the season will help lead UMass to victory on Wednesday.

“The confidence we are playing right now has really improved our game on both ends of the floor,” Dawley said. “Going into the tournament playing our best basketball has definitely put us in a good position.”

This will be the Minutewomen’s second straight game against the Explorers (5-24, 2-14) and their third head-to-head matchup of the season. UMass won its season finale against La Salle this past Saturday 80-57.

It’s very rare in college basketball that two teams play back to back games against each other but Dawley believes it will be helpful to see the same team in two straight matchups.

“We don’t want to fall into a false sense of security because we just played them and played them well,” Dawley said. “We’re trying to fine tune things that we did to beat them the last time and we’re trying to figure out changes that they might be making. It’s a mixed bag. We have to remember that we split (the season series).”

Senior forward Rashida Timbilla agreed with Dawley’s outlook on the game.

“It’s a little easier because we know their tendencies and we know what they are trying to do,” Timbilla said.

During their five-game winning streak, the Minutewomen have been thriving on both sides of the ball, averaging 72.4 points per game while only giving up 62.4 points per game.

“We’ve been playing on all cylinders, so it’s important for us to keep that going into Wednesday,” Dawley said. “Our defense now is becoming our offense and has helped us when we’ve gotten stagnant, but it will be important for us to come out firing because that is the only way we will survive.”

Defensively, UMass looks to slow down Explorers sophomore guard Amy Griffin who led the A-10 in scoring this season with 17.9 points per game. Griffin was held to 15 points last Saturday.

For Timbilla, Wednesday’s game against La Salle will take on a whole different importance than just moving forward in the A-10 tournament.

Not only is Timbilla three rebounds away from her 1,000th of her career, but Wednesday could be the last time the senior puts on a UMass uniform and laces up her sneakers as a Minutewoman.

The Ottawa, Ontario native is determined to make that not be the case.

“When you come down to the end of the season, you don’t want to see it end,” Timbilla said. “We can only control what we can control, but it is scary knowing that it could be my last game.

Dawley is confident the Minutewomen can build off their recent success and make a run in the tournament.

“Well I know we all packed five suits,” Dawley said. “We’re very confident of where we are. I’m proud the work the girls have put in. We’re excited to see what we can do and we could make a run in the tournament.”

Tip off is set for 7 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia. The winner will take on No. 6 seed Fordham Thursday.

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