A-10’s top two forwards face off as UMass women’s basketball travels to Fordham

By Jamie Cushman

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

The matchup between the Massachusetts women’s basketball team and Fordham on Saturday will likely be decided by what happens inside the paint as two of the top forwards in the Atlantic 10 face off.

UMass (9-16, 3-9 A-10) junior Maggie Mulligan will be tasked with slowing down the Rams’ (16-9, 7-4 A-10) leading scorer G’mrice Davis.

Both standing 6-foot-2, Davis and Mulligan enter Saturday’s game as the number one and number two rebounders in the A-10, respectively.

Mulligan knows controlling Davis on the boards will be crucial for the Minutewomen to leave the Bronx with a win Saturday.

“She’s averaging a double-double, second-leading rebounder in the nation, it’s going to be really important to box her out and keep her off the block,” Mulligan said.

Besides racking up an A-10 leading 12.4 rebounds per game, Davis also ranks fifth in points in the conference, averaging 14.6 points per game.

“She’s obviously talented,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “The fact that she finishes around the rim, she goes after every single rebound, she’s really good and we’re going to have to negate that with our energy. We’re going to have to help down on her and crowd her, but we’ve got to do a great job on her when she puts the ball on the floor.”

While Mulligan will be matched up with Davis defensively for most of the game, Verdi stressed the importance of the role the other four Minutewomen on the court will play in defending against Davis.

“We’re going to try to crowd her defensively and it can’t just be Maggie,” Verdi said. “When the ball is on the wing, we have to have great ball pressure because we can’t just allow them to roll the ball into the post and let her go.”

While Mulligan knows she will be going up against the team’s best player, she tries not to let that impact the way she prepares for the game.

“I don’t really like to think about that too much. I don’t want to get in my own head, I just like to go in with the same confidence every game and try to execute as well as I can,” Mulligan said.

The Minutewomen enter Saturday’s contest with just a single road win this season — a 61-60 victory over Davidson last month. Verdi has watched his team commit mental lapses on the road that they wouldn’t necessarily make at home.

“There have been times when we’ve been on the road, we knew exactly the play they we’re going to run, it was communicated to our players, and we go out there, we don’t execute, or we foul instead of just playing it with two hands straight up and so forth,” Verdi said.

“I think we need to match the other team’s intensity,” Mulligan added about playing better on the road. “I think we need to start out stronger so we’re not playing catch up the whole game and just really execute the small things like boxing out and not turning the ball over.”

UMass enters Saturday’s game with a week off between games, the team’s longest stretch of days off since the week leading up to the FIU Holiday Classic in the last week of December.

The Minutewomen looked at this break as an opportunity to rest up and regroup as they look to put an end to a six-game losing streak.

“For us I think it’s an advantage. We needed to get some rest and kind of refuel and re-energize for this last stretch,” Verdi said.

Mulligan agreed with her coach.

“I think that’s an advantage. We get to come together and practice together for a week and really focus on this game and not have any other distractions really,” Mulligan said.

Saturday’s tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gymnasium.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Jamie__Cushman.