UMass women’s basketball continues to proceed with caution

Minutewomen return home this weekend to face Saint Joseph’s

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Saint Louis Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

It seems as though almost every win from the Massachusetts women’s basketball team this year is historic.

From a win over Fordham to end an 11-year drought, to beating Virginia Commonwealth on the road for the first time in program history and an electric record compared to past decades, Minutewomen basketball has managed to find great success on the court.

While there were moments when a bucket of Gatorade was poured on head coach Tory Verdi’s as he celebrated Sam Breen’s buzzer beater with his team, there have also been quiet plane rides home after unexpected cancelations.

The highest of highs won’t make any potential lows disappear, and on the court, UMass’ (10-3, 6-2 Atlantic 10) style of play should represent exactly that mindset.

“We just have to come out and play every game like it’s our last and every game like it’s a championship game,” said senior captain Maddie Sims.

When teams began their seasons in the middle of a pandemic, nobody was thinking about a championship. With tournament play months away — COVID-19 or no COVID-19 — it was easy to ignore the pleasant thought.

“This season is really hard because of all the unknowns,” Verdi said. “You don’t know whether or not you are playing the following day or not, that’s where it goes back to my approach in the beginning of the season.”

The infamous three-word phrase “win the day,” has levelheaded this Minutewomen team but requires a more specific explanation in regard to stepping out on the floor.

“Whether we are practicing or playing, we just have to show up and give our best, then hope that our best is enough to get the victory.” Verdi said.

When looking at the Minutewomen’s record, ignoring the idea of championship potential is easier said than done. Focusing on the present is no longer that simple with a stat sheet that screams tournament success.

“As far as maintaining our goal, our goal is to put ourselves in the position the best we can to contest for a championship,” Verdi said. “But it goes back to being consistent, consistency will allow us to put ourselves in that position and continuously working hard each day will put ourselves in that position. Those things are controllable.”

The consistency won’t come from schedules, which is why no team’s record this season is an accurate depiction of its potential. Like UMass saw this past weekend, Saint Louis is a talented team, and its lack of consistent games played was nothing more than a trap.

Coming off a loss on Sunday night, the Minutewomen are looking to learn and move on when facing Saint Joseph’s on Friday, another team with fewer games played than UMass.

“All I know is that they are well coached, they are going to come and play extremely hard,” Verdi said. “We have to make sure we match their physicality, and we don’t allow them to run offense because we are going to see a ton of motion offense from them.”

The Hawks (4-1, 2-1 A10) play a similar game to Fordham, with an offense dependent on screen setting and quick ball movement. Even with no clear grasp on how they fair in regard to teams the Minutewomen have played so far, there will be aspects of Saint Joseph’s game that will be present no matter what.

“I expect them to come in and be hungry and play extremely hard,” Verdi said. “We have to make sure we have great energy, great focus and we also understand regardless of our opponent, it either goes in the win column or losing column.”

“I’d like to see us rise to the challenge and play extremely hard.”

After witnessing a player test positive against VCU (11-4, 4-2 A10), and a contact tracing phone call cancel an additional game against Richmond, UMass can only focus on the next challenge.

“You never know if a game is going to be your last so might as well just keep looking forward to the next one,” Sims said.

Lunch with a side of Minutewomen basketball will be the main course this Friday at the Mullins Center. Tipoff in Amherst is set for 1 p.m.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LuluKesin