UMass’ fundamentals shine through in big win against Hartford

Minutewomen excel at textbook basketball

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Brianna Alexander / Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

Nearing the end of the second quarter, after solid man defense made Hartford use almost the entire shot clock, a 3-pointer from the corner launched. On the opposite side of the basket, Shavonne Smith’s textbook boxout sent her to the free throw line with an over the back call and prevented an easy putback layup on the weak side.

When faced with an opponent that has the losing record like the Hawks (0-11) possess, sometimes fancy basketball occurs when a comfortable lead presents itself. On Wednesday afternoon, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team avoided what could have been a trap game and instead excelled at the fundamentals of basketball to pull out the 86-40 win.

“We don’t go out of what we do just because the lead balloons,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “You don’t all of a sudden start doing things and not playing to your strengths … do what you do and do it to the best of your abilities regardless of what the score is and how much time is left. That is my message to our players.”

On all cylinders, UMass (12-2) outplayed Hartford. The Minutewomen contested every shot, pass and dribble to apply constant pressure on defense. Ber’Nyah Mayo’s ballhawk energy stripped the ball from her opponent five different times and looked to create transition baskets when possible. UMass had 16 steals on the day, four blocks and scored 27 fast break points.

With a guard like Mayo, whose strength lies in seeing the court and feeding players when open, the Minutewomen had endless transition baskets. After Mayo threw to a running Destiney Philoxy, Philoxy recognized that the Hawks defender was playing both her and Angelique Ngalakulondi on the fast break. Philoxy then attacked the defender to force her to play one and then dished to Ngalakulondi on the opposite block for the easy two.

Mayo threw to Taylor with four minutes to go in the opening quarter who drew contact for the 3-point play. Philoxy ended the quarter with a dump pass in transition to Makennah White for the wide-open layup.

When Hartford attempted to throw UMass’ game back at them in transition, simple adjustments and communication prevented them from doing so. In transition, Taylor stopped the ball just after half court which allowed time for her teammates to run back and get involved in the play. The Hawks, who were still playing at the speed of a transition basket, forced it inside too late and the Minutewomen shifted over to draw an offensive foul call on them. Philoxy drew four charges alone on the day.

In addition to Mayo’s quick hands on defense, Ngalakulondi never allowed Hartford’s post players to get easy baskets either. With under 50 seconds to play in the opening half, Ngalakulondi followed her player as she tried to post her up down low. While watching both man and ball at the same time, Ngalakulondi tipped the entry pass away which resulted in a running layup at the other end for Mayo.

Ngalakulondi brought that same help defense to start the third and tipped another pass to the post to feed Philoxy who found Taylor to connect from the 3-point line. With the high-pressure defense UMass’ guard applied to the Hawks, Ngalakulondi was responsible for any pass on the inside. However, on Wednesday, she ran through the passing lane from the weak side to take away any lollipop pass across the defenders.

“When you watch [UMass], especially in the fourth period [it] continued to play as one unit and executed on both sides of the ball and that is what I want. I don’t want all of a sudden, its glory time and a free for all, pickup, that isn’t who we are. We want to be systematic, and we want to play together and its more about the team than the individual.”

On the offensive end, the Minutewomen played to their strengths with crisp inside-out basketball. With under six minutes to play in the third, the ball touched all five UMass players weaving from around the arc to the inside with high low action. Once the ball met Breen at the elbow, she drew two defenders and fed Ngalakulondi with a hook pass on the low block.

All game long, Ngalakulondi played clean-up crew, as she has all season with offensive boards, however she also had her share of first chance layup completions both in transition and in set offense. She finished with 14 points.

UMass takes four nights off for the holidays and returns to Amherst on Dec. 26 to prepare for Dartmouth on Dec. 28.

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