Women’s basketball faces challenge in VCU on Wednesday

The preseason favorite Rams are off to 4-0 conference record

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Women’s basketball faces challenge in VCU on Wednesday

Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

By Tim Sorota, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts women’s basketball team faces one of its toughest challenges of its Atlantic 10 schedule on Wednesday when it takes on VCU. The Rams (9-8, 4-0 A10) sit atop the conference standings while the Minutewomen (14-4, 4-1 A10) are a game behind in second following their loss to Rhode Island on Sunday.

Despite the Rams returning most of their players from last year’s team which shared the regular season conference championship, UMass is treating Wednesday as just another important A-10 game.

When the schedule was released, senior captain Vashnie Perry did not circle the contest on her schedule even though VCU was the favorite to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll back in October.

“Honestly, I did not,” Perry said. “Only because I just feel like VCU is just another opponent. We just have to fight and treat them like we treat every other team. Nothing special here.”

While the Minutewomen are going to treat their next foe as they would any other, they certainly will prepare for a battle.

Two of the main challenges of going up against VCU is their experience and their size. They rotate 10 players and of those 10, eight are juniors and seniors. Seven of them are 5 feet 10 inches or taller.

“This is the same team that won the A-10 regular season championship last year,” coach Tory Verdi said. “They have a ton of size, length, athletic ability. This will be a great challenge for us.”

Inside, the Rams are especially good. Minutewomen centers Maeve Donnelly and Sam Breen will see a heavy dose of 6-foot-4-inch senior Danielle Hammond and 6-foot-6-inch junior Sofya Pashigoreva throughout the contest. UMass has yet to face a team with as much of a post presence as VCU has.

When the Minutewomen have the basketball, their game plan this season has been driving to the hoop to make a layup, get fouled or kick it out to the perimeter for a jump shot. That strategy won’t change on Wednesday, but Hammond and Pashigoreva make the task more difficult.

“We have to get ball movement first so we can move the defense,” Verdi said. “Once we do that, we break them down and then we start attacking. We can’t be one pass to a drive and think that we’re going to get all the way to the rim. So, we’ve got to get them moving, attack them early and often then hopefully driving lanes will open up.”

Despite the presence down low, the Minutewomen will need to continue going at the interior of VCU’s defense. UMass has struggled at times this year when it’s had to rely solely on jump shots. It’s had success when it has been able to get to the free throw line.

In the past three games, the number of trips to the charity stripe has directly correlated with winning and losing the game. In the two wins against La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, the Minutewomen went to the line at least 23 times in both. In Sunday’s loss to Rhode Island, they went just 16 times.

The Rams have much more size than the previous three opponents which means UMass has to be smart when it dribbles into the key.

“We just have to use our heads in this game,” Perry said. “Yes, they’re big so we just have to, you know outsmart them meaning using dribble kicks and head fakes. There are ways to work around their height.”

Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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