Women’s basketball extends winning streak to 10 with 61-43 win over Saint Joseph’s

The winning streak is a program record

By Tim Sorota, Collegian Staff

Fans at the Mullins Center witnessed history Saturday afternoon, as the Massachusetts women’s basketball team defeated Saint Joseph’s 61-43 to extend its winning streak to ten games, a program record. The Minutewomen have not lost since before Thanksgiving.

UMass (13-3, 3-0 Atlantic 10) did not have a great day offensively, shooting a smidge under 34 percent, and was outrebounded 42-35. But just like they have in every one of their last 10 contests, the Minutewomen found a way to get it done.

“We had to make things happen,” said coach Tory Verdi. “We had a lull there offensively but then you look at what we did defensively. Everybody made plays when we needed them. Whether it was a three, whether it was a post-up by Sam Breen, or whatever it was. We made those plays and I’m not sure we would have made those plays a couple of years ago.”

Defensively, UMass was excellent the entire day. No one on St. Joe’s (7-8, 1-2 A10) was in double figures and the Hawks were held under 10 points in both the first and the third.

“We were talking like crazy on defense,” said senior captain Hailey Leidel, who led UMass with 18 points. “We were all just rotating and moving on a string. We were all really connected so it just reflected in the stats.”

UMass has been able to fall back on that unit the entire season and Saturday was no different. The Minutewomen have gone through spells this season where they have struggled to shoot, but have been able to fall back on their defense to win games.

They are holding opponents to just 36 percent field goal shooting and have forced 68 more turnovers than they have committed. Against Saint Joseph’s, they held the Hawks to just 30 percent shooting, causing 23 turnovers in the process while they only gave the ball away 10 times.

UMass made 21 points off the 23 turnovers and with a margin of victory of 18 points, that proved to be the difference.

The addition of Sam Breen into the rotation has given UMass another difference-maker on both ends. Breen can play in the post or outside, which creates matchup problems with the defense. It allows Verdi to rotate a multitude of different looks for opponents.

“Sam gives us a ton of versatility,” the fourth-year coach said. “We can go big, we can go small. We can do a lot of different things. Obviously, we want to take advantage of her strengths offensively but its also on the defensive end because it gives us a lot of options.”

In Saturday’s matchup, UMass went both big and small. In the first quarter, Breen came in for Maeve Donnolly and was the post player. This gave the Minutewomen a more offensive approach as Breen can nail jump shots.

In the second half, Verdi went with defense and size, playing Donnelly inside while Breen played around the perimeter.

Both strategies worked as the Penn State transfer added nine points off the bench. She takes pride in the ability to stretch the floor and being a swiss army knife of sorts for her team.

“I have definitely grown in the post aspect a lot more,” she said. “That was more my game in high school and coming to college it was more, strictly around the perimeter shooting threes and coming here I worked on back-to-the-basket post a lot more.”

The win keeps UMass atop the A-10 standings in an already historic season for the Minutewomen. But to Verdi, despite their success so far, there’s no target on their back.

“It is just about preparing. My motto has been each day, win the day,” he said. “If we continue to win the day, in practice it will carry over and it will help us win games. We are winning the day and it something that our players believe in.”

The Minutewomen will look to continue their winning ways on Wednesday when they take on La Salle at the Mullins Center.

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