Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minutewomen out for revenge as A-10s open

Two tough losses provide extra motivation in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament

By Thomas Haines, Collegian Staff

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Reeling from a 10-game losing streak at the end of last year, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team went into the first round of the 2017 Atlantic 10 tournament against Saint Louis and fell flat, losing by 40 points to cap off a miserable 9-21 season.

366 days later, UMass (14-15, 6-10 A-10) improved in the standings but finds itself with a familiar first-round opponent as the A-10 tournament opens Tuesday. Now, last year’s loss is fuel for the Minutewomen as they look to advance through the conference tournament.

To add insult to injury, SLU defeated UMass earlier in the year, as Billiken Kerri McMahan made a free throw with less than a second left to secure a one-point win.

“Both of those [losses] just stacked on top of each other is the ultimate motivator,” sophomore Hailey Leidel said. “We want to go in there and we want to do the same thing we did to Rhode Island. We just want to go in there, mark our territory and kill them.”

Four players returned to UMass after last season, including Leidel. While much of the attention this year has been on the crop of new players revitalizing the program, the returners have made up the majority of the starting lineup down the stretch.

Of the returners, particularly seniors Leah McDerment and Maggie Mulligan, last year’s tournament loss has not been forgotten.

“It’s almost like history repeating itself in that we’re going back there again,” McDerment said. “I think that it’s definitely going to give us fuel — for all of the returners — to know that we’re not going to get embarrassed like we did last year. Last year it wasn’t even a game. So, it’s going to fuel our energy, and it’s definitely going to be a big revenge game for us, for this year and last year.”

The tournament loss ended a difficult season for UMass, defined by an 11-game losing streak to close out the year. Multiple talented players had transferred out of the program before the season, and the Minutewomen battled depth issues all year, resulting in fatigue down the stretch.

This year, replete with fresh talent and a stronger bench, UMass won three straight games to end the season, most recently an 87-50 dismantling of last-place Rhode Island.

McDerment and Leidel both agreed that the atmosphere around UMass had changed and that this year’s team had more motivation going into the tournament.

“I remember going into last year; I wanted to win, but I didn’t feel like everyone else on the team wanted to win,” Leidel said. “A lot of people were kind of like, ‘The season’s been so hard, we’re just waiting for it to end.’ But this year, I actually feel like everyone’s 10 toes in — everyone’s ready to go out there and get the job done. So, it’s completely different.”

As for the product on the court, coach Tory Verdi, now in his second season with UMass, cited the January game against SLU as proof that this UMass team is different. The Minutewomen came in on a five-game losing streak and missed 53 field goals, but still led for 38 minutes.

“I’m looking at this game, and I know they are too — it’s payback,” Verdi said. “We left there with a sour taste in our mouth. We should have won that basketball game. We did not play well in the last two minutes of that game. [We] had every opportunity to leave there with a win and we didn’t. So, it would be sweet if we could go to Saint Louis and knock them out in the first round.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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