Minutewomen take care of business against St. Bonaventure

Ninth straight win ties program record

By Thomas Haines, Sports Editor

After a close first half Wednesday night, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team pulled away in the third quarter against St. Bonaventure en route to a 62-52 win, its ninth straight.

UMass (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) started to get some breathing room right before halftime, scoring the final four points of the second quarter for a six-point lead going into the break. The Minutewomen added another five points to start the third, then pulled away midway through the quarter, maintaining a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

“We talked about that coming out, it’s the first five minutes, don’t let up,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “We’re up six points at the half, and we came out, knocked down a couple threes and got to the basket. That energy just continued through the rest of the game.”

With St. Bonaventure (3-12, 0-2 A-10) hanging around in the fourth, the Minutewomen put the game away, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. With just under six minutes left, senior Hailey Leidel made a jump shot to stretch the lead to 13, and junior Sam Breen followed it up with a steal on the other end. Destiney Philoxy hit a jumper in transition, the lead was 15, and the game was all but over.

In her first game back from injury, Philoxy came off the bench for the first time all year but looked to be back in form, finishing with eight points and four assists from the point.

“I liked her change-of-pace, especially in transition,” Verdi said. “She got a couple one-legged layups. We ran some stuff for her to get to the rim, where she finished. She’s an extra ballhandler, she’s able to relieve Bre and Vash a little bit, give us depth. Obviously she can score the ball as well for us, and I expect her to get back into the swing of things here in the coming days.”

Although St. Bonaventure (3-12, 0-2 A-10) shot 41 percent from the field, the Minutewomen played a strong defensive game. The Bonnies struggled to get looks, consistently running up against the shot clock, and hit three of their seven threes in the fourth quarter with UMass up big. The Minutewomen also forced 20 turnovers, which led to 21 UMass points.

“We pressed them, a combination of that and along with [that], what we did in the half-court, turning them over,” Verdi said. “We turned them over 20 times, and a lot of those led to some points. So just our overall defensive sense of urgency was there.”

Leidel led the way on offense once again, recording 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. As her senior year progresses, Leidel has continued to move up in the UMass record books, and Wednesday’s numbers made her the third player to record 1,600 points and 600 rebounds, joining Octavia Thomas and Melissa Gurile.

“She was able, with the clock winding down, as the shot clock is about to expire, to make something happen, whether it was knock down a shot or get to the free throw line,” Verdi said. “So her aggressiveness on the offensive end helped us tremendously.”

In the end, the offensive numbers came out relatively even. The Minutewomen shot 41.8 percent from the field compared to 41.2 percent for the Bonnies, and although both sides hit seven threes, St. Bonaventure shot 35 percent compared to 29 percent for UMass.

But those numbers belie how much UMass controlled the game, especially in the second half. The Minutewomen got the looks they wanted and made the shots they needed to, and that was enough to take care of the Bonnies.

The win tied a program record for longest winning streak at nine games and marked the first win over the Bonnies since February 2016, two months before Verdi took over. It was the Minutewomen’s first win at St. Bonaventure since 2007, coming four days after they won at Duquesne for the first time in 20 years.

“They believe, they have drive, they have purpose,” Verdi said. “It’s a fun group to coach, let me tell you.”

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