Minutewomen fire on all cylinders, top Bryant 68-62

By Amin Touri

Jessica George weaves between. Imogen Fairs/Daily Collegian)
Jessica George weaves between the Bryant players. Imogen Fairs/Daily Collegian)

Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team bounced back in a big way on Sunday, riding a big fourth quarter to a 68-62 win over Bryant.

Big performances from guards Hailey Leidel and Leah McDerment helped the Minutewomen (5-5, 0-1 A-10), stay with the Bulldogs (4-5, 0-0 NEC), before a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter swung the momentum and put the game away.

After senior Alyx Stiff knocked down a three to give UMass a nine point lead with 6:37 to play, a quick steal by McDerment and a dish to a cutting Ryan Holder stretched the lead to 11 moments later. Another steal for McDerment set up an open three for Leidel, and suddenly the Minutewomen had a 64-50 lead, the momentum firmly in their favor. It was part of a 16-0 fourth quarter run from which the Bulldogs couldn’t recover.

Though Bryant made a 12-2 run of their own in the closing stages of the game, it was too little too late, and McDerment could dribble out the clock on a 68-62 win.

“We knew we had to come out here and get the win,” said McDerment, “there was no doubt about it. We’d just lost three in a row, so as soon as we came out we were all ready.”

McDerment ran the show all afternoon for UMass racking up a career high 14 assists and falling just one short of the program record of 15.

“She’s our catalyst,” said UMass coach, “she makes us go. She’s a leader on the floor, she’s a coach on the floor, and she makes us go.”

The Minutewomen ran into some early foul trouble, when junior Maggie Mulligan picked up her third foul midway through the second quarter. Verdi was forced to pull his star center – sitting second in the nation in double-doubles coming into the weekend – for over 10 minutes of game time.

Only logging 28 minutes on the floor, Mulligan posted 9 points and 8 rebounds, snapping a streak of eight consecutive double-doubles dating back to Nov. 14 against North Dakota State.

“With Maggie picking up her third foul and having to sit for extended time, Hailey [Leidel] moved over to the five,” Verdi said, “we’ve prepared for this and we’ve seen it in practice, and I thought Hailey did a fantastic job.”

Despite spending most of her time this season as a guard floating around the perimeter, Leidel was unfazed playing at center, holding her own both in the post on the offensive end and in the lane on defense.

“I played the five in high school,” Leidel says, “so I’m familiar with it. When [forward Taylor Tucker] got injured, they told me this may be something I would have to do. I don’t get a lot of reps, but we have prepared for it.”

Leidel would finish with 23 points and eight rebounds, and the freshman just couldn’t miss from deep, knocking down all five of her 3-pointers.

After taking a 36-33 lead into halftime, the Minutewomen found themselves locked at 50-50 heading into the fourth quarter, before playing their best stretch of basketball all season.

“I thought we played really well,” says McDerment “We didn’t end the game as well as I would have liked, but to put ourselves in a position to go on a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter, when we’re all tired and playing a lot of minutes, to pull that out of the bag at the end, you can’t ask for much more.”

“For periods it was [our best performance of the season],” said Verdi, “but was it a complete forty minutes of beautiful execution, no. But that’s what excites me about this team, we’re winning games and we’re not playing our best for 40 minutes. But once we get there, we’re gonna do a lot of good things.”

Having snapped a three-game skid, UMass heads east to take on Boston University on Wednesday, before returning to Amherst to host Holy Cross on Sunday.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected]