UMass takes the floor after weeks off for first A-10 matchup of the season

Minutewomen travel to face A-10 champion VCU on Wednesday

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Caitlin Mott/ Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

When the Massachusetts’s women’s basketball team left the locker room in Hartford to travel home for the holidays, there was no indication that the short break would extend into a 20-day drought.

“There was no basketball,” head coach Tory Verdi said.

After COVID-19 cases flooded the entire country, cancelations multiplied, and programs were shut down to avoid the rapid spread from team to team. UMass (12-2) was not unique to the outbreak.

“We all had [COVID-19] here and it’s been a tough three weeks,” Verdi said on Tuesday. “We haven’t had a whole lot of practice here, [Tuesday] was our first full day at practice, two-hour practice in the last 21 days … it was great just to get back on the floor.”

Once the Minutewomen were healthy enough to begin practices and were officially out of isolation, focused shifted from specifics like transition offense to basics of the game having been away from it for so long. In order to prepare for three games in six days, UMass had to cover almost everything in just a three-hour practice.

Practices actively involve all members of the Minutewomen program however Verdi typically keeps a short bench with a six or seven-man rotation in games. With all the time off and away from the court, expectations in terms of stamina and conditioning may be different. Wednesday’s game could result in the need for bench players playing valuable minutes to give the starting five a breather.

“It’s going to be a wait and see, I don’t know what to expect,” Verdi said. “Our players are mentally tough and we’ll assess them as the game goes on …  but regardless of who is on the floor we still want to continue to play UMass basketball, there aren’t any excuses.”

In terms of excuses, conditioning is not the only topic of conversation. Wednesday’s opponent is one UMass has history with and when it last played Virginia Commonwealth, it was a championship loss in the Atlantic 10 finals in March 2021.

“I think it’s something we haven’t forgotten,” Verdi said. “Of course we wish that the circumstances are a little different … but regardless we are excited to play them, I know that we are up and ready for the challenge. Is it in the back of minds that they beat us in the championship game? Absolutely. Our players are really excited to play this game tomorrow night and I know they will come out and will challenge them to the best of our abilities.”

The Rams are riding a 7-5 record and are undefeated (2-0) in conference play so far. Unlike UMass, VCU had game action recently, with a win over conference opponent Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 9. Just four days prior, also on home turf, the Rams beat another A-10 competitor Duquesne. Before March, the Minutewomen split the regular season match up with VCU. Beating the Rams on the road on Jan. 15 and then falling to them on neutral turf in Rhode Island on Feb. 26.

Graduate student and reigning A-10 Championship Player of the Game Taya Robinson continues to lead VCU into the 2021-22 season, scoring a career high 26 points against the Hawks. Last time Robinson faced UMass, she scored 19 points and was 7-for-14 from the field. The 5-foot-10 multifaceted veteran combined with head coach Beth O’Boyle’s roster of height and depth will likely be a dominate threat to Sam Breen and UMass’ defense on Wednesday.

“I really want us to go out there and give it our best,” Verdi said. “Whatever that looks like, I don’t know what it’s going to look like to be honest, but I expect our players to go out there and be excited to play. Knowing [the Minutewomen] they are mentally tough enough to fight through this.”

Tipoff in Virginia is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

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