UMass to face Saint Louis twice this weekend

Doubleheader scheduled following consecutive postponements

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

Just weeks before the global shutdown began in March 2020, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team found themselves on the losing end of a game against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals.

The Minutewomen (9-2, 5-1 Atlantic 10) face the Billikens (2-1, 0-1 A-10) for the first time this weekend not once, but twice.

While two games against the same team back-to-back was not in the original plan, UMass was already used to scheduling chaos.

UMass woke up on Saturday morning after a win against Virginia Commonwealth expecting to play Richmond on Sunday. Suddenly, it became a rematch against VCU after Richmond postponed.

On Sunday, UMass didn’t go home with a win or a loss, just the news that a VCU player tested positive.

UMass immediately returned and grouped themselves into pods. UMass’ bench didn’t see the floor enough on Friday night to fear COVID exposure, so the starting five and newcomer Danielle Sanderlin formed a pod.

“Once we found out that a VCU player had a positive [test] we met as a team and we talked about the safety protocols,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “We made sure we stayed in pods.”

The routine of hand washing, social distancing, cleaning up after yourself and wearing a mask became the perfect game plan to approach the challenge.

Positive COVID tests and last-minute game adjustments define every team’s expectation with a season like this one. Verdi felt as though the rest time was the silver lining amidst the cancellation chaos.

“Thankfully it was our day off on Monday,” Verdi said. “It was a quick 36 hours for our players to kind of take a step back, get some alone time and rest up for this week.”

For the Minutewomen, coach Verdi’s emphasis on the present made all the difference.

“Coach Verdi let us know at the beginning of the season that this would be a hectic season, things could change at any given time” Mayo said.

From there, the hunger level of the Minutewomen returned.

“Once he told us that, we just wanted to know who our next opponent was and get ready to move on to the next game.”

Friday’s matinee followed by an afternoon game on Sunday is tough for both teams respectively.

“The only advantage I would say is that you can’t make too many adjustments,” Verdi said. “It’s a quick turnaround so you don’t have too much time as a coach to screw anything up.”

Saint Louis was plagued by the postponed games from the start of the season but nonetheless, the Billikens are still the same team who left a sour taste in UMass’ mouth almost a year ago.

“We expect a hard-fought game regardless if they’ve played three games or twenty-three games,” Verdi said. “This is a great team that we have struggled with the last five years I’ve been here.”

Hand sanitizer and masks will remain, but according to Verdi, UMass needs to bring a few more necessities on this road trip.

“Boxing out and rebounding,” Verdi said. “I have been screaming that the last couple days. We are going to face a team that is very physical. We are probably going to face one of the best offensive rebounders in the A-10. We have to do a great job of finding them and boxing them out and matching their physicality.”

Mayo’s maturity as a freshman is shown through her stats and ability to handle intense ball pressure. Mentally, her veteran mindset shakes off any potential nerves about this weekend.

“It’s obviously not normal but we treat every game the same,” Mayo said. “Whether we’re playing them back-to-back or one day in between, we just have to go in focused and ready to play.”

Mayo credits her coaching staff’s ability to adjust instantly, setting her team up for great practices this week. Cleaning up offensive execution is a main goal, but Verdi wants defensive execution to shine through.

Mayo and her teammates will face junior guard Ciaja Harbison whose ability to dominate on all levels separates her from other players in Verdi’s eyes. To limit her shots would be impossible but contesting them is necessary.

The nature of this type of weekend means that whatever energy that UMass brings Friday has to be met with equal levels of intensity a little more than 24 hours later.

“Going up there we have to come out with an unbelievable sense of urgency and be really clean offensively,” Verdi said. “Defensively just get after it.”

Tipoff on Friday in Saint Louis is at 1 p.m. followed by game two at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a test for us to go out there to St. Louis, it’s always been a tough place for us to play but we’re ready for that challenge,” Verdi said.

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