Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s basketball outlasts La Salle

Strong UMass women's basketball performance earned them a win against La Salle

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Amelia Shaw/Daily Collegian

Amelia Shaw/Daily Collegian

Amelia Shaw/Daily Collegian

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Hailey Leidel drained a pull-up jumper with nine seconds left to give the UMass women’s basketball team a four-point lead over La Salle, and the Minutewomen held on for a 69-66 victory on Sunday afternoon.

After La Salle cut the lead to two with 38 seconds remaining, UMass (11-12, 3-7 Atlantic 10) drove down the court to set up Leidel’s decisive shot. La Salle (7-16, 2-8 A-10) fought to the end, hitting a three with less than a second on the clock and fouling Maggie Mulligan to get one last chance, but the two-score deficit proved too much to overcome.

“I just went in the passing lane and she [Bre Hampton-Bey] made the pass,” Leidel said. “One of their big girls came up, so obviously I couldn’t drive all the way, so I just pulled up, and it was good.”

Leidel led a balanced attack for the Minutewomen where three players cleared double-digit points. Leidel shot 47 percent from the field and finished with 21 points.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, because on defense I didn’t think anyone could really guard me,” Leidel said. “And they didn’t.”

The UMass defense struggled early in the game and La Salle opened up an eight-point lead early in the second period, but the Minutewomen ended the half on a 16-4 run to take the lead for good.

“If we do come out and dig ourselves into a hole, there’s still hope,” Mulligan said. “We just need to continue the energy that we have from the beginning and keep pushing.”

Mulligan attributed the second quarter turnaround to the bench players entering the game.

“I think our energy was different [in the second quarter],” Mulligan said. “The bench definitely provided us with a lot of energy. We were more focused and ready to play.”

UMass scored 19 points off the bench, split between Hampton-Bey and Genesis Rivera. On the other side, the Explorers’ starters accounted for all but one of their points, with four of the five playing over 35 minutes.

“Sometimes our bench comes in the game and sometimes maybe someone might not be scoring, and that makes it tough because that’s when we start to struggle on offense,” Leidel said. “So them coming in and being confident and being aggressive and knocking down shots for us, honestly I think that was the difference.”

After several last-minute losses earlier this year, including losses to Duquesne, Saint Louis and Davidson, coach Tory Verdi said that the close win gave the team something to build on going forward.

“I just think when you get one underneath your belt, it gives you a little bit more confidence,” Verdi said. “We’ve been working on it all year, but we’ve been focusing on it, and it’s just getting the ball to the right people at the right time, and then paying attention to all the little things, all the little details.”

Unlike other close games this season, the Minutewomen controlled the ball throughout, committing only two turnovers in the first half and eight on the game. In the crucial second quarter, UMass didn’t have a single giveaway.

“I thought our players did a great job of valuing the basketball here today,” Verdi said. “We were able to get shots up instead of just doing things that are uncharacteristic.”

With the strong performance against La Salle, UMass bounced back from an ugly loss against Richmond on Wednesday. After a six-game slide last month, the Minutewomen have quietly won three of their last five.

“Really proud of their effort here today,” Verdi said. “They competed, and they represented our program and the University of Massachusetts the way we want them to.”

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

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