UMass women’s basketball finding new life on offense with Sam Breen

Breen made her debut on Dec. 21

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(Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Sports Editor

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team has seen unprecedented success this season, and its second-best player didn’t debut until Dec. 21.

Sam Breen, who transferred from Penn State midway through last year and sat out until the end of first semester, has quickly become the second dynamic scorer for UMass (16-6, 6-3 Atlantic 10) as it has found its way to the top of the A-10.

While the Minutewomen still run through sharpshooter Hailey Leidel on offense, Breen has brought new life to UMass’ offense down low.

“I think it was nice [bringing her in], especially with losing one other post player,” Leidel said, referring to the departure of freshman Angelique Ngalakulondi for personal reasons. “Going for the rest of the season with two would’ve been tough, no matter what the odds were, so bringing in anyone would’ve been nice, but bringing in a really good scorer like Sam and a really aggressive player has been very nice. She’s just nice because she gives us another option and takes the pressure off the guards to do all the scoring, so she makes us more well-rounded.”

Since coming in, Breen has averaged 17.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, shooting 46 percent from the field. Although her strengths lie primarily in the paint, she has also hit 43 percent from three.

“Coach Verdi talks to me all the time, he wants me to be a scoring post, so if that’s what he needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” Breen said. “If my role changes, my role changes, if not it doesn’t.”

Although the Minutewomen started the season 8-3 without Breen, who entered halfway through the program-record 11-game winning streak, she has quickly become indispensable. In a recent three-game slide, a major reason for UMass’ stalled offense was a quiet stretch from Breen, who was held to single digits in games against Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington.

“Those three losses were tough, especially two of them being one-possession games,” Breen said. “So, for us to not let that continue, because I know a lot of people looking from the outside in were probably looking at us with a negative light, thinking that would continue. So, I think to get the win at home, and then obviously a huge road win at Davidson, definitely helps bring that identity back. We’re going to face adversity all the time, so to power through it is a huge part of who we are.”

With the addition of freshman center Maeve Donnelly at the beginning of the year, the Minutewomen have arguably the two best post players of coach Tory Verdi’s four-year tenure. Breen’s presence has helped open up opportunities for the freshman, who has had an up-and-down first year.

“It allows us to take advantage of Sam’s scoring ability and Maeve’s size, and it forces teams to figure out how to defend both of them,” Verdi said. “If they put a small forward on Maeve, then we’ll be able to expose them there, and if they put a small forward on Sam, we’ll be able to pop the ball inside and get her some touches right around the rim, but I thought we did a really nice job the other night exposing them with their on-ball screen defense.”

For a UMass offense that has lacked shooters outside of Leidel, the addition of Breen has opened up possibilities. As the Minutewomen, now winners of two straight, gear up for the stretch run as they look to take the next step up in the A-10, Breen has been the second scorer that UMass desperately needs.

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