Minutewomen hold on for ugly win over Siena

Fifth straight win for UMass

By Thomas Haines, Sports Editor

After building a 17-point lead over Siena shortly before halftime, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team saw the lead shrink to three midway through the fourth quarter but held on for a 61-55 win.

Leading by 13 at the half, UMass (8-3) slowed down on offense as Siena (2-6) started to chip away. The lead was down to six at the start of the fourth and three with six minutes to play, but the Minutewomen were able to stave off the charge until Paige McCormick’s 3-pointer with under two minutes left put the Saints away.

“Give Siena credit, we knew coming into this game it was going to be tough, especially given what they do defensively,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “Their tandem zone gave us trouble last year, gave us trouble again this year. We were passive at times, but we did enough, obviously, in the end to win the basketball game… it was one of those games where we knew we were just going to have to tough it out, and we did that here today.”

UMass came out of an ugly first quarter down by one before turning on the jets. A 7-0 run gave the Minutewomen the lead halfway through the second, and after Siena responded with a three, UMass came back with a 10-0 run to build a cushion.

After shooting just 23 percent from the field in the first quarter, the Minutewomen couldn’t miss, making 69 percent of their shots in the second. Siena helped them out by turning the ball over seven times in the second quarter.

“One way we were going to win this game was getting defensive boards and getting stops,” junior Bre Hampton-Bey said. “Stops after stops, that was how we were going to win this game. They are a tough team, they were very aggressive, and we just had to keep fighting back.”

But Siena started to find ways around the UMass defense after halftime, and the astronomical shooting numbers from the second quarter came back down. After scoring just 20 points in the first half, the Saints scored 19 in the third quarter to get back into the game.

Rayshel Brown, who transferred from La Salle before the season, led Siena with six of those 19 points, while senior Sabrina Piper made two crucial threes. Piper had gone 2-for-30 from three in the two previous games.

“I think they made some shots that they normally don’t make,” Verdi said. “We also gave them confidence, and it’s just one of those things. They got a little momentum, got a little confidence, and then some of their personnel started making shots that they normally don’t make. It’s part of the game.”

Despite not hitting shots at the same rate, the Minutewomen scored 28 points after halftime, but much of that came in the final minutes as they were trying to stave off the comeback. The UMass offense was silent for several minutes as the Saints went on a 14-3 run, starting at the end of the third quarter and leading into the fourth.

Especially in the second half, UMass struggled to get in a rhythm offensively, as the zone slowed down the Minutewomen’s ball movement and limited them to perimeter shots that weren’t falling.

“Three-quarter court, so they don’t allow you to bring the ball all the way up the court,” Verdi said. “So then you’re starting offense at 20 seconds, and by the time you get in, try to get into your stuff, now it’s like 17, 16 seconds. Again, they did do a good job of matching up. We’re passive for whatever reason, we’ve got to have more of an inside presence against the zone – that’s how you beat up a zone, breaking it down from the interior, and I didn’t feel we did a very good job of that.”

Siena largely won the battle inside, scoring 30 of their 55 points in the paint. On the other end, the Saints prevented UMass from passing into the paint and holding freshmen Maeve Donnelly and Angelique Ngalakulondi in check.

“I think we’ve just got to look to score more [down low], to be honest,” senior Hailey Leidel said. “A lot of times, when we pass it in, our bigs are thinking kick it out for threes or maybe making that extra pass instead of getting theirs first, and I don’t think they understand that the more they score and the more aggressive they are, the more it’ll open it up for everyone else. They’ve just got to be aggressive, because we know they can score and that’s why we’re giving it to them.”

In the end, McCormick’s three – her only three-pointer of the game – all but sealed it. The Saints managed to keep it close by fouling, but with a six-point lead and 11 seconds left, sophomore Destiney Philoxy grabbed an offensive rebound and Leidel dribbled out the clock.

The victory is UMass’ fifth in a row and eighth of the past nine. The Minutewomen will look to keep rolling Saturday on the road against Iona.

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