Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Defense, rebounding are major keys for UMass women’s basketball against league leading Dayton

By Dan McGee, Collegian Staff

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Wednesday’s matchup against Dayton (18-4, 11-0 Atlantic 10) will be the toughest conference game of the season for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team. The Minutewomen will be looking to pull off a major upset against a team who has won 12 games in a row.

The Flyers, who sit atop in Atlantic 10 conference, ranking in the top five in points, assists, rebounds and a plethora of other categories, can only be stopped if the UMass (11-12, 3-7 A-10) defense holds strong throughout the game.

“We have to pick our poison, they do so many things,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “You have to figure out what to take away. We can’t allow them to come in here and just run their offense. When you allow teams to run their offense, they’ll just carve you up.”

Featuring four players averaging double digit points on the season, the Flyers offense has been on fire since the start of conference play. With multiple double-digit victories, including a 116-58 victory over Rhode Island in early January, the Dayton offense is clearly capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

Dayton also keeps control of the ball on a consistent basis, averaging the fifth lowest number of turnovers per game at 14.0. UMass guard Bre Hampton-Bey, who sits third in the conference with 2.3 steals per game, will be looking to change that.

“Bre does a great job for us, anticipating and getting her hands on the ball a ton,” Verdi said. “Everyone just has to do a great job anticipating and being really active. The more visual pressure we have defensively the better off we will be.”

The outcome won’t only be dependent on UMass’ play on defense, but also their work rebounding the ball. Dayton’s roster features seven players who are 6-foot-0 or taller, while UMass only has three in Maggie Mulligan, Anil Soysal and Alexia Allesch. Not including their 6-footers, Dayton guard Javonna Layfield is averaging 13 rebounds per game, putting her third in the conference in that department.

“When a shot goes up, we have to find people and box them out,” Verdi said. “We have to match their physicality because we know they’re going to crash every time, regardless if they’re a little bit bigger than us.”

UMass, who has been playing forward Hailey Leidel at the center position in recent games, may have their hands full with the abundance of capable rebounders on Dayton.

“Last season we played Dayton in a one possession game with a minute left, where we were playing Hailey at the five position because Maggie was in foul trouble,” Verdi said. “It’s not what we want to do, but we have to put players on the floor that are systematic and can play their role on this team. If that means Hailey has to play the five-position some, that’s what it means.”

Verdi also believes that although they might have the height disadvantage, the Minutewomen could excel in the small ball game against Dayton.

“If we play small ball, you have two bigs on Dayton who have to go out on the perimeter and defend two guards,” Verdi said.

Though UMass is the clear underdog in this one, coach Verdi isn’t letting that undermine his expectations for the Minutewomen.

“I expect us to show up with great energy, great focus, and great excitement,” Verdi said. “And with that, anything is possible.”

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.

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