Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minutewomen win conference opener vs Saint Louis

First UMass win vs Saint Louis since 2011

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Minutewomen win conference opener vs Saint Louis

(Daily Collegian/Jon Asgeirsson)

(Daily Collegian/Jon Asgeirsson)

(Daily Collegian/Jon Asgeirsson)

(Daily Collegian/Jon Asgeirsson)

By Javier Melo, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team opened up conference play with a huge victory over Saint Louis on Sunday, the program’s first against the Billikens since 2011.

The Minutewomen (9-6, 1-0 Atlantic 10) looked great on both ends of the court, playing ferocious defense that forced 15 turnovers and contained an SLU (5-9, 0-1 A-10) offense that seemed poised to explode at any moment. On offense they were just as fantastic, shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from three on 17 shots.

“I thought we played a complete two periods of basketball,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “I thought we came out and played really well in the first period and I thought we came out and executed down the stretch in the fourth period. The in-between was just conference basketball.”

Senior guard Jessica George led the team with 18 points. The captain always seemed to step up when the team needed a spark and hit some massive three-pointers down the stretch. On top of the scoring output, George also contributed five assists and stellar defense to help seal the victory.

Also providing major contributions to the Minutewomen were freshman Asia McCoy, who scored 14 points, and junior Hailey Leidel, who scored 12. McCoy, who played in her first collegiate conference game, really showed out today, hitting critical free throws for UMass down the stretch and offering energy and aggression on both ends of the floor.

“I think we all played really hard today,” said George. “We used the last few days of practice and our intensity and just put that into the game today. Everybody came out strong, came out confident, with full energy, and it showed on the court.”

The game was the definition of a back and forth contest. Throughout all four quarters, the lead would change based on which squad would go on a run. The Minutewomen managed to jump to an extensive lead in the first half due to their ability to force turnovers and denying the Billikens from getting any shots. Saint Louis would close the gap towards the end of the second quarter, going on a mini-run to shrink the UMass lead.

Everything changed in the second half, however, as the two teams would battle each other back and forth with small five- or seven-point runs. The Billikens received huge second half contributions from Brooke Flowers, who made her presence known in the paint with 17 points and 12 rebounds, 5 of which were offensive, and Jordyn Frantz, who hit big threes to keep the game close.

Saint Louis would ultimately falter when Jessica George and Hailey Leidel started hitting 3-pointers down the stretch, but kept fighting until the final second.

“There’s a reason why they’ve been in the top four in the league in the last [X] amount of years,” Verdi said. “They figured things out with us. They did a great job defending on-ball screens with us. We didn’t get things easy, but our kids hung in there.”

The recipe for Sunday’s victory was stellar defense. The Minutewomen managed to force 15 turnovers and drew 20 fouls. The team wasn’t afraid to throw their bodies in the way of a driving player for a charge or snagging a loose ball on the ground. They intercepted passes left and right and in the end, the defense limiting the number of good shot selections Saint Louis could take earned UMass its first win over the Billikens in eight years.

“We were aggressive,” said Verdi on the defense. “We played well in the zone here tonight and they did a great job attacking gaps and making shots, so we went back to man [defense]. I just thought that defensively we did a great job of getting deflections and steals.”

The Minutewomen will look for continued success in the conference as they go on a two-game road trip, facing Dayton on Wednesday and then La Salle on Sunday.

Javier Melo can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.

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