UMass unable to beat Saint Louis twice, falls 63-52 Sunday

A strong second half puts the Billikens on top


St. Louis Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

Coming off a win on Friday fueled by a strong second half, the Massachusetts’s women’s basketball team watched Saint Louis take it right back to them in the last two quarters on Sunday.

The two-game road trip against the Billikens (3-2, 1-2 Atlantic 10) split even, ending UMass’ (10-3, 6-2 A-10) four-game win streak. Saint Louis goes to sleep tonight with its first conference win.

When looking at what went wrong for the Minutewomen, failure to convert early on was not unique to Sunday’s game. Both A10 offensive dominators Sam Breen and Ciaja Harbison didn’t see the ball go in the hoop much in the first half on Friday, but Breen found some rhythm late in the second half, finishing with 13.

UMass woke up this morning knowing they held Harbison to just six points on Friday night, but the junior guard who averages nearly 15 points per game this season was bound to shoot better in game number two.

Harbison had her fair share of missed layups on Sunday afternoon but when she got going, it became a different game. For the Minutewomen, nothing was falling inside or out. UMass went 6-24 on layups. Breen, the typical layup machine finished with just five points.

“We took some ill-advised shots as well,” said head coach Tory Verdi. “I call those shooting turnovers.”

Verdi’s perspective on his team’s third loss mirrored the last one; UMass failed to find other ways to succeed against Rhode Island in January when shots didn’t fall.

“You can’t stop playing defense when offensively you struggle; you can still win games,” Verdi said. “The ball is not going to go in every single night, but you have to figure out what else to do.”

The typical Minutewomen offense that has teams scrambling to defend quick passes inside and out was left at the hotel this morning. The flat-footed effort on offense carried over to a weak defensive showing when UMass needed it most.

The Billiken’s back screens for easy 2-pointers and ability to disconnect the Minutewomen’s defense shook up this team whose defensive effort normally wins the game.

“In the second half we got out-toughed, there is no question about that,” Verdi said. “That is the part I am disappointed with. I get it the ball is not going to go in and we’re going to lose some games, but we can’t get out-toughed. That’s controllable.”

The silver lining from Friday to Sunday was another positive performance from Sydney Taylor. Taylor finished with 17 points and led UMass in scoring both games this weekend.

When the Billiken’s continued to push the force onto the Minutewomen’s defense, UMass stopped pushing the ball. Taylor felt that the lack of attempts at transition baskets late in the game made a negative impact overall.

As difficult as it is to beat a team twice in a row, it is no excuse for the uncharacteristic style of play the Minutewomen displayed on Sunday.

“We had a pretty good understanding of all the players since we already played them once,” Taylor said. “We knew we had to execute our stuff offensively, but we struggled to do that a lot. We tend to do one pass one shot but what we need to run offensive outside to get open players, so I think that’s what hurt us a little bit.”

Now it’s time to learn from what went wrong on Sunday.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to feel down about ourselves, team’s lose,” Taylor said. “We have to get over that, we have to get in the gym and make our shots. Just work on our stuff.”

While Verdi boards the flight back home frustrated by his team’s performance, he simultaneously recognizes the big wins his team has had thus far. According to the Minutewomen’s head coach, knocking off VCU and Saint Louis on the road is impressive. Even more impressive when it came right after a big win against Fordham.

UMass has a chance to get back on the winning track when they face Saint Joseph’s at home on Friday. Tipoff at 5 p.m.


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