UMass women’s basketball dominates the fourth quarter in a 76-62 win over La Salle

Minutewomen outscore Explorers 21-14 in final frame to extend winning streak to 11

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UMass women’s basketball dominates the fourth quarter in a 76-62 win over La Salle

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Tim Sorota, Collegian Staff

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For the first half and much of the third quarter of Thursday night’s contest, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team and La Salle were within one or two possessions of each other.

But once it got to crunch time, UMass (14-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10) put its foot down outscoring the Explorers (6-11, 0-3 A-10) 21-14 in the final frame securing a 76-62 win extending their program-record winning streak to 11 games.

“It all starts with taking care of the basketball,” coach Tory Verdi said about the fourth-quarter turnaround. “And we made shots. We knocked down some threes. We were able to get to the free-throw line. We finally moved the ball. They were throwing some different defenses at us and I thought we did a really good job of attacking that and finding open people and making it happen.”

Sam Breen was particularly good down the stretch finishing the game with an 8-of-20 mark from the field after starting 2-of-10.

When the game was in the balance, there was never a panic for the Minutewomen, relying on their veteran players to get the job done when it mattered most.

“This team has a lot of experience. I know between myself, Bre [Hampton-Bey], Paige [McCormick], and Vash [Perry] we all have played a lot of basketball especially here,” said senior captain Hailey Leidel. “We have had a decent amount of close games so far this season so I think just everyone kind of knowing what its been like and how we’ve pulled it off before has that confidence to just step up and get that stop or score when we need it.”

One of those players who did just that was Bre Hampton-Bey.

With the third quarter clock winding down and the Minutewomen up by four, Hampton-Bey drained a corner three with a hand in her face extending the lead to seven. Later in the fourth, she hit another long ball, this time putting UMass up by eight.

Hampton-Bey is known much more for her defense, so seeing her drain twice from beyond the arc was a huge momentum boost for her team.

“It was a lot of emotion in there because I’ve been working on my shot a lot and we needed them in crunch time,” the Toledo, Ohio native said. “So, I was just happy to knock them down in rhythm.”

Her coach echoed the significance of those shots.

“They were huge,” said coach Tori Verdi of the 3-pointers. “To be honest with you, I felt like those changed the complexion of the game. We were stale offensively, we couldn’t score, we were struggling to find something. Then it just game us more life and it gave us a little bit more cushion. And then it was like ‘ok, let’s defend’ and ‘let’s get a stop’. It all became contagious. Those shots were huge.”

For the second straight game, UMass owned their opponents from the free throw line. They shot 25-of-29 from the stripe, outscoring the Explorers by 14 in that category. Over that span, the team is shooting 80.8 percent, well above their mark for the season.

In the second quarter of tonight’s contest, the Minutewomen made just two field goals but were able to maintain the lead thanks to converting seven of eight free throw opportunities.

“Every game for us, we have four goals and one is to get to the line 17 times. Every game, no matter what it is, that is always a big focus for us,” Leidel said. “The fact that we can just drive and get those easy points is really big for us.”

Leidel went to the line a team-high six times.

The Minutewomen look to extend their win streak to 12 when they travel to take on Rhode Island on Sunday.

Tim Sorota can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TimSorota.