Minutewomen fail to “function as a team” in 76-69 loss to Saint Joseph’s

UMass’ two-game losing streak is its longest of the season

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

Trailing by double digits late in the contest, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team found themselves with a chance to win or extend the game to overtime. Sam Breen converted an and-one opportunity near the rim to bring the team within five, and a steal following Saint Joseph’s inbound pass gave the Minutewomen a real chance to come out on top.

But a missed three by Destiney Philoxy and a subsequent foul brought UMass (10-4, 6-3 Atlantic 10) back to reality: they were not the better team on the floor on Friday. The Minutewomen’s strong push to come back near the end of the game, according to head coach Tory Verdi, was an outlier, not the norm.

“I thought that we had tremendous effort down the stretch… but unfortunately, it’s not the last two minutes of the game [that determine the outcome],” Verdi said. “You gotta have that [effort] in the previous 38 minutes, and we obviously were a sliver of that.”

The defense allowed the Hawks (5-1, 3-1 A-10) to convert over 60 percent of their shots within the arc en route to the second-most points given up this season. The UMass offense made just 20 percent of their 30 attempts beyond the arc as they struggled to get the ball inside against Saint Joe’s zone looks. The combination of these two failures proved to be insurmountable for a team that has overcome their fair share of struggles this season.

“We did not play as a team today,” Verdi said. “Who we were on the court today [was] something that we’re not, and I was embarrassed with how we played today… I thought [Saint Joseph’s] outworked us, I thought they out-toughed us, I thought they outcoached us, and that’s on us.”

Offensively, the Minutewomen’s attack from deep is really what did them in. While they were able to drive to the rim at times (42 points in the paint), too many possessions ended with a questionable three-point attempt with a defender relatively close to the shooter. Sydney Taylor, Sam Breen, and Destiney Philoxy combined to go 4-23 on threes on the afternoon.

“We didn’t let the offense work for us,” Verdi said. “We want to take advantage of high-percentage shots, and when you go away from that and do your own thing, you can have instances where you break down, and we broke down a lot today.”

One player who certainly was trying to let the offense work for the Minutewomen was forward Maddie Sims, who finished with a career-high seven assists on the afternoon. Sims was an active playmaker for much of the first half, consistently looking to find cutters and open teammates from the top of the key in the team’s half-court sets.

“I try to do whatever my team needs me to do to put us in the best possible position to win, whether that be passing, scoring, [or] rebounding,” Sims said. “My teammates did a great job getting open, so [that] made it really easy to find them.”

After Sims’ seventh and final dime early in the third quarter, however, UMass shot just 31 percent for the remainder of the contest. Those near-18 minutes of action culminated in just four assists for a Minutewomen offense led by the second-best passer in the NCAA in Destiney Philoxy (7.5 assists per game).

“We did not function as a team today – period,” Verdi said. “[Saint Joseph’s] played the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and we did not.”

Now on a two-game losing streak, their longest of the season, the Minutewomen will look to bounce back against a La Salle team on Sunday they defeated handedly earlier on. Tip-off in Amherst is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Freeman Alfano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @freemanalfano.