Minutewomen upset Fordham 80-70 to earn their first A-10 Tournament semifinal appearance since 2002

Senior Sam Breen had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the victory

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Brian McWalters/Atlantic 10 Conference

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

In a few fleeting moments during the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s postgame availability, one could hear the players and coaches celebrating from within the locker room off camera. Those likely deafening cheers were warranted after the team’s 80-70 upset over the second-seeded Fordham Rams in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals.

As a result of the win, UMass (13-6, 7-5 A-10) advances to their first tournament semifinal since star senior Sam Breen was in diapers.

“It’s super exciting,” Breen said of the accomplishment. “Obviously we have a short roster here, so doing it all for each other – coaches, staff, and [our teammates] has been huge, and I really wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”

That short roster, which is now comprised of seven players, has forced Breen to play all 85 minutes this tournament. Yet she didn’t show any signs of limited stamina in Friday’s contest, as made clear by her dominance in the fourth quarter. The Pennsylvania product didn’t miss a shot en route to 10 points, five rebounds and two assists in the frame after struggling earlier on.

“When a play is run for you, you really don’t want to mess it up,” Breen, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, said of her fourth-quarter heroics. “I definitely missed a few pretty easy ones early on, so just having that ‘what’s next’ mentality, and then when you get a play called for your name, just having that scorer’s mentality… Knowing that your team and coaches trust you, I think that really helps a lot.”

One player who certainly has earned the trust of the program is sophomore Sydney Taylor, who finished with a career-high 27 points in 39 minutes. Despite the high minute totals, she hasn’t been feeling the lack of energy at this point, and the same can be said of the fatigue-free Breen.

“You would think it’s affecting us, it’s a lot of wear and tear, but I think the adrenaline is kind of keeping us pushing,” Breen said while adding that she hasn’t played this many minutes this consistently since her AAU days. “Our bodies aren’t hurting as much as you would think they are, especially because we’re so excited to be here.”

Another person who is excited to be in Richmond is head coach Tory Verdi, but “not for the weather,” as he has insinuated after each of the last two victories. Since coming to UMass in 2016, Verdi has consistently increased his team’s wins each season—with the exception of this COVID-shortened campaign—and now has the most successful tournament run in the program since 2002 to show for his efforts.

“They’re showing the country who they are as players, as people, their character, just how hard they work together,” Verdi said of the Minutewomen. “I’m extremely proud of their effort here tonight.”

That effort has allowed the program to climb to new heights under Verdi, who are now just two wins away from an A-10 Championship and a berth to the NCAA tournament. Their ascension continues tomorrow afternoon where they will face Saint Louis.

“We’ve been counted out a lot this season, and people don’t realize how much talent we have on this team, even with seven players,” Taylor said of the possibility of winning it all. “If we can get this done, that’d be pretty crazy. And we’re gonna get it done.”

That path to getting it done continues on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal matchup. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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