UMass women’s basketball ends two-game skid with win over George Washington

Minutewomen back on winning track with 68-41 win on Saturday


Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

After two losses, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team got back on the winning track with a statement win over George Washington, heading home with a 68-41 win. Saturday’s W marks the first on the road against the Colonials for UMass, ending an 0-23 record in Washington D.C.

The second quarter was when Minutewomen (15-4, 3-2 Atlantic 10) basketball took off. By only the eight-minute mark of the second, UMass had an 11-0 run. After two games of struggling offense, the Minutewomen looked much more like themselves early on. Sydney Taylor caught fire on all cylinders. Taylor watched the ball go in on a 3-pointer after two games of cold shooting from downtown and managed to attack down low. On a hard fought layup, Taylor got herself to the stripe for the 3-point play, marking her 10th point on the afternoon.

Recognizing the Colonials (7-10, 0-4 A-10) were slow to get back on defense, Sam Breen passed to Ber’Nyah Mayo who threw a full court lob to Angelique Ngalakulondi under the basket for the wide open two. Not only did that transition offense allude to early season behavior from UMass, but it also forced GW to call timeout.

“It was just good to see us execute,” head coach Tory Verdi said of the first half. “Just move the ball, the ball didn’t die in one person’s hand and we weren’t just going one on one. In the last two games, we just weren’t connected. We weren’t connected on the offensive end and we didn’t create much for one another … that was something we worked on the last couple days and I just felt like we played together. When we play together and we move the ball from side to side, we’re pretty good.”

The 11-0 run turned into a 24-4 run heading into the final minutes of the second quarter. Stefanie Kulesza, who has seen an increase of minutes in the last week, had herself a quality 3-pointer, building on the run and getting the bench off their feet. The freshman finished with 5 points, two blocks and two rebounds, including an athletic put back on a Breen miss under the hoop.

The Minutewomen held GW to just four points the entire second quarter.

At the half, Breen had 13 points and Taylor had 17. By the end of Saturday’s contest, Breen picked up her 12th double-double on the season, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Taylor finished with 17 points and 5 boards. Mayo finished with six points, three steals, five rebounds and three assists.

While offensive success separated the scoring margin, defensive execution was the true difference maker. UMass was able to fight through back screens and force the Colonials to shoot from outside, not allowing for easy layups.

Despite unusual plays such as a Breen misfire from downtown that had only white jerseys under the basket looking for the rebound, the Minutewomen still dominated the boards. On the afternoon, UMass had a 43-36 rebound advantage but lost the battle on the offensive side, with GW picking up 15 to the Minutewomen’s eight. Defensively, UMass won the rebound battle 35-21.

Destiney Philoxy had a difficult sequence working through GW’s offense, picking up four turnovers but still found success in UMass’ offensive system. When kicked out to her behind the line, she connected on two of three. Despite the turnovers, she finished with 17 points on the day and went 5-for-7 from the foul line, and 75 percent from the field.

The first few minutes of the opening frame were fairly even. George Washington came out with high-speed offense looking to push the pace at UMass. The Minutewomen picked up three-quarter court and threw a fast-paced press at the Colonials. As GW tried to hit the low block after successful working the ball through the first set of defenders, Ber’Nyah Mayo ran back to cut off the pass. On the flip side, UMass struggled with the Colonials defense early, forcing lobs into the post which ended in the hands of GW instead.

Taylor got herself going early with a 3-pointer with 2:12 to go in the first but uncharacteristically, the Minutewomen struggled to secure the rebound on defense. Following Taylor’s shot, the Colonials had three offensive rebounds in one sequence and took three 3-point attempts, but luck was on UMass’ side with GW going 0-for-3. George Washington shot five for 29 from downtown on the day.

Once UMass began to connect on offense and find good ball rotation, Minutewomen fundamentals carried through. Breen got herself going early and had pick and roll movement with Ngalakulondi. Ngalakulondi finished with a career high four assists and seven points.

Out of the halftime, Nya Lock recognized the rusty 3-point game and began driving to the hoop instead. She single-handedly had five straight points out the gate. Philoxy turned it over once more following the small run GW had but when Mayo drove to draw defenders, hit Ngalakulondi under the hoop who kicked out to Philoxy for a nothing but net 3-pointer, momentum shifted back to UMass. With five to go in the final quarter, Philoxy made up for previous turnovers with a pick pass into a layup on the run.

Until the final seconds, the Minutewomen played textbook basketball. With full court pressure, Kulesza inbounded to Alexzeya Brooks who hit Kulesza at GW’s foul line. She then threw to Makennah White running the sideline who found a cutting Shavonne Smith for the open layup. White finished with three points, all coming from the foul line. The Minutewomen shot 76.5 percent from the free throw line on the day.

With the win, UMass heads home to prepare for a game against A-10 frontrunner Rhode Island at home on Wednesday. Tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

“It’s a revenge game for us,” Verdi said. “With huge implications to an A-10 championship.”

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