UMass women’s basketball splits pair at Hawkeye Classic over weekend

By Jamie Cushman

22814394288_6383653817_k
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team split a pair of games at the Hawkeye Classic over the weekend, the first of two tournaments UMass will play in the regular season this year.

On Sunday, freshman Hailey Leidel drained a 3-pointer with time expiring to power the Minutewomen to a 59-58 win over Montana, helping to make up for a tough 71-30 loss to the host Iowa the day before.

“Really happy with the split,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said in a phone interview with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian Tuesday. “Playing against Iowa, BIG 10 school, obviously they were tough, but I’m really pleased with the win against Montana.”

UMass (2-2) jumped out to a quick lead against the Lady Griz, but Montana battled back in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Minutewomen 17-10 and forcing Leidel to make that last-minute shot for UMass to hold onto the win.

Following a missed Lady Griz free throw with 10 seconds left in the game, the Minutewomen quickly got back up the court where junior Maggie Mulligan set a pick for Jessica George, who then dropped the ball back to Leidel just behind the 3-point line for the game winner.

“As soon as it left her hand I looked up, saw the time had expired, the ball went in, and obviously very happy, very excited for our team,” Verdi said.

Leidel finished the game with 18 points, second on the team to Mulligan who tallied 24 points and 15 rebounds, both career highs for Mulligan.

“I thought she was tremendous,” Verdi said. “The fact that she’s scoring with her back to the basket, she’s scoring on the move, and the fact that she’s just so overly aggressive, and just gobbling up all the rebounds, so we need that from her. She’s our catalyst, she makes us go.”

The thrilling victory on Sunday helped take some of the sting away from a rough opener to the tournament, a 41-point loss to the Hawkeyes.

UMass failed to generate any offense, shooting just 19 percent from the field. Sunday’s hero Leidel, who came into Saturday’s game as the Minutewomen’s leading scorer, averaging 20 points per game, tallied just two points and shot 0-12 from the field.

“Playing a BIG 10 school I think there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of nervous energy, and I think we missed a lot of high percentage shots, we missed a lot of layups within the first five minutes. Had we knocked those down I think a lot of that goes away and we say, ‘hey, you know we can play with those guys,’” Verdi said.

Verdi attributed some of Iowa’s success to the Hawkeye’s height advantage. Six of the 12 players Iowa used against the Minutewomen were 6 feet or taller, whereas UMass used just one player, Mulligan, over the six-foot mark.

“I think their length bothered us, they sped us up and the game got really fast for us, but we’ve got to do a better job finishing around the rim, and that’s collectively,” Verdi said.

The already banged up Minutewomen also had to deal with the loss of another player, freshman Taylor Tucker, to injury.

“I think when you’re battling what we’re battling, we have five healthy scholarship players, what we’re enduring, it’s hard, it’s difficult. We’re playing basically five players 37, 38 minutes a game, so that’s tough,” Verdi said.

The Minutewomen return home to face Central Connecticut State on Wednesday at the Mullins Center at 2 p.m.

“We’ve got to do a good job of containing them and not allowing them get one-legged layups, and I believe if we do that and we take away a lot of the paint touches, we’ll be in good shape to win another basketball game,” Verdi said.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at and followed on Twitter @Jamie__Cushman.