Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass prepares to take on first place Dayton Wednesday

Dayton is unbeaten in conference play

By Cameron Sibert, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team will face off on Wednesday night against conference foe Dayton at the Mullins Center.

The Flyers (18-4) will be one of the toughest teams the Minutewomen will face all year, as they are a perfect 11-0 in conference play.

“They’re a very good basketball team, they have a ton of strengths,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “They’ve got size, they’ve got depth, they can shoot it at all positions, they rebound the ball as well. We’re preparing for them and we understand that they’re going to attack, we can’t allow them to get comfortable and execute or run what they want to run. We’re going to try to mix some things up defensively and try to confuse them a little bit.”

The Dayton offense is one of the conference’s best, as the Flyers average 73.2 points per game to go along with a field goal percentage of 44.1, presenting a tough defensive task for UMass.

One player the Minutewomen (11-12, 3-7 A-10) will have to account for is senior guard Jenna Burdette, who leads the Flyers in scoring, averaging 16.5 per game.

Burdette is joined in the backcourt by fellow senior JaVonna Layfield who is listed as a guard at 5-foot-11. Layfield is averaging a double-double, scoring 11.9 points and 13 rebounds per game, and will be a player UMass will have to keep off the glass.

The Minutewomen will be looking for senior center Maggie Mulligan to carry a big load in the rebounding department, along with sophomore Hailey Leidel who has seen an uptick in time at the center spot as well. Making sure the other team doesn’t get second-chance opportunities is crucial in a game like this where every possession is going to matter.

Mulligan has made a great impression and has continued to develop well under Verdi.

“Her personal development as a player is mind-blowing. At one point in time she was leading the country in double-doubles,” Verdi said. “It’s going to be hard filling those shoes, especially with someone who has never played at the collegiate level.”

In his second year as coach, Verdi has gotten off on the right foot by turning around some of the bigger struggles that the team was facing.

“I have high expectations for us and for our program,” Verdi said, “but I also understand we are rebuilding the program here and it just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and we’re in a good position…I feel like we’ve moved the needle from a year ago winning nine games to already having 11 wins now.”

“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Verdi continued. “Is it as fast as I would have liked? No, of course not. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a very impatient person when it comes to winning, but I also understand that we have to do the right things and changing the culture and the expectations of our program is our top priority and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Wednesday’s game will be a big moment for UMass, as they try and make a statement by getting a win over the A-10’s top team. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Cameron Sibert can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @camsibert.

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