UMass women’s basketball bounces back to secure 87-75 road win over Columbia

Strong first and fourth quarter puts Minutewomen on top

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Brianna Alexander / Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

It’s Christmas time in New York City, and the Massachusetts’s women’s basketball team arrived just in time to strip any gifts from the Columbia Lions, picking up an 87-75 win on the road Saturday afternoon.

Following a lifeless loss to Boston College at home on Wednesday, the Minutewomen (10-2) played true UMass basketball and regrouped to shut down a red-hot Lions (8-3) team, ending their three-game win streak in their own gym.

To open the contest, the Minutewomen played some of their best basketball all year. Sam Breen took advantage of Columbia’s key player’s poor close out and dribbled by Kaitlin Davis for an easy layup right out the gate. Against BC, when Breen was doubled no other Minutewomen could connect to produce points. On Saturday while doubled, Breen still finished with 19 points and five of her other teammates scored in double figures as well.

Sydney Taylor didn’t need time to heat up and hit two early 3-pointers that set the tone for the pace of UMass’ offense right away. In attempt to shut down the lethal 3-point weapon, the Lions ran out and closed out harder on Taylor out of a timeout midway through the first quarter. Taylor didn’t settle and instead blew past her defender for a layup.

“We were clicking on all cylinders,” head coach Tory Verdi said of his team’s first quarter performance. “We executed the game plan, we wanted to get post touches and pound it inside and we were able to do that.

Verdi’s game plan was to get inside looks first then kick it out for the safety pass if the post option wasn’t there. Breen and Angelique Ngalakulondi danced in the post in the opening quarter and Taylor gave relief from downtown when their layup wasn’t there. UMass outscored Columbia 14-4 in the paint in the first quarter alone.

The Minutewomen shot 3-for-7 from deep and 57 percent from the field, and if the first shot failed to connect, Ngalakulondi and the rest of UMass were quick to collect the offensive boards. Even when Columbia was able to contest the shot, it couldn’t secure the rebound and stop second chance opportunities. The Minutewomen had 10 second chance points and outrebounded the Lions 15-3.

Makennah White, who didn’t see the floor in Amherst on Wednesday checked in midway through the first quarter after Ngalakulondi was on clean-up crew to start the game. White stepped into the five spot seamlessly off the bench and went 4-for-4 from the field, finishing with 12 points.

When the Minutewomen finished the first quarter with a 31-12 lead which extended to a 46-26 lead at halftime, one of the Lion’s best players had yet to wake up.

Coming out of the break, sophomore Abbey Hsu recognized the need for her 3-point success. With only five points on the afternoon, Hsu reinvigorated her game and splashed five 3-pointers in the third quarter, three of them coming less than two minutes apart from each other to single handedly cut back at UMass’ lead.

With a newfound score of 59-45 after a layup through traffic from Hsu with just under three minutes to play in the third, the Minutewomen were forced to call timeout. Once the Lions best shooter put their offense back in motion, UMass had to take back control of the game.

“I knew the second half was not going to be easy,” Verdi said. “… we knew at some point in time [Hsu] was going to get it going and they did. I just thought that we answered when we needed to.”

As momentum carried in the direction of the home team, so did costly mistakes. Davis, who found herself sitting midway through the first quarter with two fouls took over for Hsu when her 3-point success cooled off in the fourth. After securing the defensive rebound, Davis came full speed down the court and kicked it to a wide-open Henderson in transition at the 3-point line. Before Henderson could release, Davis charged into UMass’ best charge taker and sent Philoxy into the ground. Whistle signaled, the crowd silenced, and Davis picked up her fourth.

“Those things, people say blocking shots are better but they’re not,” Verdi said. “Taking the charge, it changes the whole momentum of the game and or a run. [Philoxy] puts herself in position every single time we take the court and that’s the reason why we are successful.”

UMass drew five charges in total on Saturday, and Philoxy drew three of them.

With just three minutes to go, Taylor recognized the tight close out at the 3-point line and drove into Davis to create contact and send a key player to the bench with five fouls. As the lead went back and forth between single and double digits, the Minutewomen’s trips to the foul line increased. Taylor finished with 19 points, 3-for-9 from downtown and perfect from the line.

Ber’Nyah Mayo maturely dribbled down the shot clock with a defender playing tight defense then drove hard to send herself to the line and waste time. Mayo chipped in 10 points herself and had five rebounds. In the fourth quarter, UMass shot 10-for-12 from the line to help hold off what could have been a game changing run for Columbia.

“We just beat a really good team,” Verdi said. “I just told our players that [today’s game] was the UMass way. Our effort here today was absolutely outstanding, collectively. We were connected on the court, our want to and just togetherness was something that I haven’t seen in a while.”

“I told them, when you guys play like that something special will happen and today’s win was just phenomenal,” Verdi said.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Lulukesin.