UMass women’s basketball hosts annual Play4Kay game Saturday

By Thomas Johnston

Leah McDerment has the ball during the game against Davidson on Saturday. (Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

There are games where the exterior circumstances going on at a sporting event are far more important than the game itself. The Massachusetts women’s basketball team hosting their annual Play4Kay event to raise awareness for the Kay Yow Cancer Foundation qualifies as one of those games. Pink was scattered around the Mullins Center, most notably on the players who were wearing pink uniforms and shoes.

“It means a lot,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “Number one it’s a great cause. It brings awareness to an ugly disease that has taken people from across the country. Whatever we can do to help the awareness and cause we’re definitely going to do it. I appreciate everyone coming out and supporting that for us and hopefully they’ll come back and see another game.”

For senior Alyx Stiff, playing in the annual pink game was particularly special.

“Me personally, I’ve lost a few people to cancer and my grandma actually has cancer now, so it definitely means a lot to me,” Stiff said. “I know the whole team, not every single person has a personal experience, but it all means so much to them because it shows how much people fight.”

Stiff finished the game with a career high 22 points, going 7-14 from the field in 38 minutes of playing time.

For senior Megan Burke, this was her second cancer awareness game of the year. She was proud to be able to be a part of one again.

“It means a lot,” Burke said. “We do a pink game in soccer. Every pink game is a big deal, but this was very important to us with so many people affected by it. You try your best, you try your best every game but this game especially. You try to come out and work hard for those who can’t.”

Burke made her second start of the year on Saturday. She walked onto the team this season after a standout soccer career for the Minutewomen. She finished the game with two points and a pair of steals.

“It’s about playing those who come to practice and work hard everyday,” Verdi said when asked about giving Burke the start. “You get rewarded. It’s on our players to show up, be consistent and give a good effort and that’s the culture here. And if you don’t, you won’t play.”

Verdi was complimentary of Burke’s work ethic and how she has improved throughout the season.

“She comes in and works hard. She gives great effort and does everything we ask her to do. It doesn’t take much but she’s consistent in what she does,” Verdi said.

Though Burke doesn’t see many similarities between soccer and basketball, she feels there is a universal connection between her mentality in the two sports.

“I think work ethic is the biggest similarity,” Burke said. “Working hard. If you work hard, something is going to go your way.”

Burke, who played 13 minutes on Saturday, has been able to give UMass a defensive boost. Her court awareness was evident early in the game, as she stole an inbound pass and raced down and converted the layup. When asked about what her biggest improvement has been over the season, Burke said that her knowledge of the sport is near the top.

“I think understanding the game more and being more aware of where I am on the court and what position I’m in and my role in general,” she said.

The Minutewomen will look to end their losing streak next Saturday when they take on Fordham in the Bronx. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.