UMass advances to the Atlantic 10 championship with a 90-81 win over Saint Louis

Sam Breen and Destiney Philoxy combine for 56 points

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Brian McWalters/Atlantic 10 Conference

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

Heart. That’s what all seven members of the Massachusetts’s women’s basketball team have. History. That’s’ what they could make tomorrow.

After taking down No. 3 Saint Louis on Saturday night, No. 7 UMass (14-6, 7-5 Atlantic 10) has a chance to become to lowest ranked seed to win an A-10 championship.

In an all-team effort led by powerhouse captains Destiney Philoxy and Sam Breen, the Minutewomen beat a strong Saint Louis (12-4,9-3 A-10) team 90-81.

In recent games, Breen has slowly crept onto the stat sheet by showing up at crucial moments, but not necessarily to start the game. Saturday, it was a totally different story. Breen came out red-hot right away, showing no sign of fear against Saint Louis’ 6-foot-5 Brooke Flowers.

Breen caught fire on turnaround jumpers in the lane, and that fire never died out until the game clock hit zero at the end of the fourth quarter. Breen’s dominance in the post remained for all 40 minutes she played. She went 11-for-16 from the field, finishing with 28 points, and 10 rebounds, snatching her 15th double-double of the season.

“Whoever has the most momentum is usually going to win, and I think we carried that momentum from start to finish tonight,” Breen said.

Breen’s 28-point performance was mirrored by co-captain Philoxy who also delivered right from the tip. Philoxy, a quick left-handed guard leaned heavily on drives and layups all season long. With knowledge that the Billikens would know how to guard her left hand and take away easy trips to the basket, Philoxy had to show off the jump shot that she had been working on all season long.

When Saint Louis’ 3-point threat Rachel Kent got off to a hot start, an unlikely 3-point shooter matched her fire. Philoxy went 2-for-4 from downtown on Saturday, with both coming in the first quarter.

As much as the Billikens tried to find ways to stop Philoxy’s usual routes, her adaptability made for crucial shots, like one late in the third quarter.

Philoxy nailed a 20-foot jumper at the top of the key to separate her team’s lead from nine to eleven to close out the quarter.

“When coach drew a play for me, I was honestly excited inside,” Philoxy said. “I usually jab, pump fake and drive. I saw that the person who was guarding me didn’t jump, and the clock was winding down, so I knew I had to just shoot it and believe it was going in…that was an amazing moment for me.”

Philoxy finished with 28 points and two assists. Freshman Ber’Nyah Mayo chipped in 13 points, including a big 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to bring the UMass lead back to double-digits. Sophomore Angelique Ngalakulondi had six boards, in addition to an and one layup that got the entire Minutewomen bench on their feet.

The last time Saint Louis played UMass, Breen had a season-low five points. A night and day difference from what the Billiken’s saw in the semifinals.

For head coach Tory Verdi, beating Saint Louis in a playoff game means a bit more. The Billikens knocked the Minutewomen out of the tournament twice in the last four years.

“It’s a special day,” Verdi said of Saturday in regard to his team’s history with Saint Louis in the playoffs.

No matter how little the bench or how few minutes rest the Minutewomen get in these playoff games, the motto from all season long bled into tournament play on Saturday.

“Our goal is to win the day and that’s our motto, our way this year and today we won the day, there is no question about that,” Verdi said.

The relationship that Breen and Verdi have developed throughout her career in a UMass jersey showed on the court on Saturday, but the heart and soul of this specific Minutewomen team comes from every player.

“She’s unbelievable,” Verdi said of Breen. “I love that kid. I love all of them. Sam is special, they are all special and I am just super proud of the things she’s doing. Not only just as a player but as a person, she is a really good person… I have one daughter, but not really, I have eight.”

As for tomorrow, the knowledge that this is the first time the Minutewomen head into the A-10 tournament since 1998 is nothing more than a fun-fact to the team.

“We can’t get ahead of tomorrow,” Verdi said. “We need to focus on the game tomorrow and focus on Virginia Commonwealth and we have to take it minute by minute, period by period.”

Verdi’s team will only celebrate Saturday’s win for so long.

“It feels good but at the same time we know we have a lot of more work to do,” Philoxy said.

UMass takes on No.5 VCU in the A10 championship on Sunday, tipoff at 12 p.m.

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