UMass hopes to dominate Bryant defensively on Wednesday

The Minutewomen will depend on post depth and aggressive defense in season opener

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

The unpredictability of the ongoing pandemic does not guarantee anything long term, therefore the Massachusetts women’s basketball team can do nothing more than face each individual task in front of them, starting tomorrow in Rhode Island.

In preparation to face Bryant’s dominating 6-foot-3 inch senior, Brooke Bjelko, UMass will depend on off-ball pressure and endless defensive intensity.

“The one great thing is our post depth; we have size and depth, so we have to do a great job and we know that,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “They like to pound the ball inside to Bjelko so we have to be active. A lot of that starts with great on-ball pressure so defensively we can’t allow their guards to see a ton of daylight and get comfortable with throwing the ball to her inside.”

With a versatile bench and core returners, UMass has high expectations to contain the Bulldog’s powerful post players.

“We have to be active,” Verdi said. “Our post defense needs to be great and constantly moving, not allowing her to duck in and get high percentage shots right around the rim. We have to take away a lot of their post touches.”

Bryant’s powerful inside game is not the only tool UMass needs to take away in order to come out on top tomorrow.

“They do a great job in scoring in transition,” Verdi said. “They are a team who likes to push it and attack off of misses, so we have to do a great job of picking up the ball and stopping them, forcing them to run offensive at half court.

With various expectations heading into this year after a successful 20-win season last year, the responsibility of carrying that momentum falls into the player’s hands, with no fan energy to feed of off.

“It’s going to be different, but it is something we have to own,” Verdi said. “We have to get excited and as a team, we have to create our own energy and it needs to be infectious.”

The delayed start of the season has not slowed down the Minutewomen however, and only left more time for positive things to occur between teammates that will be beneficial this season.

“Being that it is the COVID world right now, we are really all that there is on campus with a few other teams,” said senior captain Sam Breen. “We’ve really had the chance to spend a lot of extra time outside of practice together and I think that has really helped.”

For graduate transfer Maddie Sims, waiting to get back on the court was even longer after sitting out last season.

“Everyone has been helping me get back on the court and play a more pivotal role this year instead of just being a practice player and cheerleader on the sideline,” said captain Maddie Sims. “It was fun and all, but I am really happy to be back on the court and I’m excited for my first game tomorrow.”

COVID or not, the Minutewomen will have to be on top of their game tomorrow right from the start. With new players in the starting line up like sophomore guard Sydney Taylor, the team will collectively focus on one job.

“Regardless, I am not about excuses and we can’t afford excuses,” Verdi said. “We have a job to do and that is go out tomorrow and take the win away from Bryant. We have some new faces that haven’t played before, so we have to go out there work hard, and outwork them for 40 minutes.”

UMass faces Bryant on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Lulukesin.