UMass women’s basketball team can’t recover from sluggish start in 65-55 loss to George Mason

By Amin Touri

Maggie Mulligan taking a free throw in the game against George Mason on Sunday December 4, 2016. (Erica Lowenkron/Daily Collegian)
Maggie Mulligan taking a free throw in the game against George Mason on Sunday December 4, 2016. (Erica Lowenkron/Daily Collegian)

Junior Maggie Mulligan’s sixth consecutive double-double wasn’t enough for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team as a late comeback fell short against George Mason in a 65-55 loss on Sunday.

“We were passive,” said UMass coach Tory Verdi. “For whatever reason, we didn’t do a very good job moving the ball around, didn’t set screens in transitions, and that’s a focus thing. Same thing happened when we played Hartford, for the first three periods we didn’t come out, fourth period we make a run and start doing the things we’re capable of doing.”

As they did against Hartford on Wednesday, the Minutewomen (4-4, 0-1 Atlantic 10) were slow out of the gate on Sunday, only putting up nine points in the first quarter and facing a 34-24 deficit at halftime. UMass’ leading scorer Hailey Leidel struggled to find a rhythm early, as the standout freshman was held scoreless until the final minutes of the first half.

“I don’t think we came out with enough energy,” said Mulligan. “We showed up in the fourth quarter, but we should’ve played harder from the jump.”

With 11 points and 12 rebounds in this game, Mulligan is now tied for the second most double-doubles in the nation so far this season.

While Leidel and the Minutewomen shot just 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, George Mason (5-4, 1-0 A-10) came out firing. Freshman guard Sarah Kaminski knocked down four three-pointers in the first half, and the Patriots went into the half shooting 54.4 percent from beyond the arc.

George Mason’s lead stretched to as much as 15 in the second half, but as Leidel started to heat up and defensive stops became more frequent for UMass, that lead began to fade.

The Minutewomen cut the lead to just six points midway through the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they would get, as the Patriots capitalized on UMass turnovers and pulled away. George Mason senior Kara Wright put the game away for the Patriots with near-perfect free throw shooting down the stretch, going 12-13 in the second half and finishing with 22 points.

Despite the loss, there are plenty of positives for an ever-improving Minutewomen basketball team.

“I just told [the team], I’m pretty excited,” Verdi said, “the fact that we got the opportunity to knock off an A-10 school and we only showed up for one period, the fact that we were right there down the stretch and we didn’t show up for three quarters, that’s exciting.”

Only playing six girls for most of this season, Verdi is working with two freshmen and a sophomore in his young lineup, and with that youth should come major improvement as the season moves along.

“No question about it, if they get some good coaching and they improve every single day we’ll get better as a team,” Verdi says. “This team’s invested, and that’s something I love about this team.”

“Part of me is really jealous that I’m a junior and that I’m older,” said junior Leah McDerment. “The freshmen have such a good time ahead of them and by next year we’ll be even better. The only way is up for the program, and I think the ball will just keep rolling.”

The Minutewomen will head to New York on Wednesday to face Hofstra, before returning to the Mullins Center Saturday afternoon to host Bryant.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected]