Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s hoops heating up heading into Atlantic 10 tournament

Minutewomen head into conference tournament on three-game win streak

By Cameron Sibert, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team is getting prepped for the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament, which begins on Tuesday. The Minutewomen will take on the team who took them out of the tournament in last year’s first round in Saint Louis.

“A lot of us returners know how that feeling felt last year, and so we just don’t want to go through the same thing,” said junior guard Jessica George. “We want to relay the same message to the freshman and transfers and everyone else.”

UMass finished its 2017-18 season 14-15 overall and 6-10 in A-10 play, a solid improvement on last year’s 9-21 record and 3-13 conference record.

UMass won its last three regular season games, and is building up steam at just the right time. In the three-game win streak, the Minutewomen have shot a solid 41.2 percent from the field. They have also forced a total of 41 turnovers and done a good job at getting points in the paint, especially against URI when the team had 44 points inside.

When the team was struggling toward the end of the season, it seemed UMass just needed to get back to the basics. Boxing out, finding open shots and knocking them down when they’re available — all things that saw noticeable improvement during the stretch run.

“In the last couple games, we have been really on point. We’ve been executing our game plan, like on defense we’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do,” said sophomore Hailey Leidel. “A lot of people have more confidence shooting or driving to the basket, so we have more scoring which always helps, and I think people are realizing that if we don’t do it now, there will be no chance to do it. I think people finally have gotten into that mindset and that’s really helping us.”

The game is expected to be a close one, as UMass lost to Saint Louis (15-14, 9-7 A-10) earlier in the season by just one point. Leidel had 23 points for UMass, while senior guard Jackie Kemph had 20. Kemph is the one to watch in this one as she leads the Billikens in scoring on the season, averaging 15.1 points per game.

“We’ve got to do a great job of containing [Kemph’s] dribble penetration,” said coach Tory Verdi. “She does a great job of attacking right and we know that. So we have to contain the dribble penetration and we can’t foul her. She was 8-10 from the line last time we played her. She does a great job of changing speeds. She was the most valuable player in the conference last year, and there’s a reason why.”

Winning on Tuesday and moving onto the second round would be a big step in the right direction for UMass. The attitude of the players seems to be constantly progressing, and the Minutewomen are taking things step-by-step to move the needle the way they want it to move.

The A-10 tournament takes place in Richmond, Virginia again this year — the first round will be held at the higher seed’s home gym, and UMass is set to play at SLU on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

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

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