DiLuca: UMass finds itself in familiar territory

The Minutewomen advance to the A-10 Championship game for the second straight season

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Greg Fiume / Atlantic 10

By James DiLuca, Collegian Staff

WILMINGTON, Dela. —  On Saturday, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team won it’s Atlantic 10 semifinal matchup against Saint Joseph’s in commanding fashion, as it defeated the Hawks, 76-58.

For UMass, making it to the A-10 Championship this year means a tremendous deal for UMass’s head coach Tory Verdi and his team, especially considering that the season prior UMass was in the exact same place it is now.

Last year UMass made the A-10 Championship as a seventh seed, but lost to VCU, 81-69. The Minutewomen have seven players on their current roster played on last season’s team.

That group of seven was dubbed the “Savage 7,” as in last years A-10 tournament UMass made a magical run to the championship with those seven being the only active players. The “Savage 7” consisted of Sam Breen, Stephanie Kulesza, Ber’Nyah Mayo, Angelique Ngalakulondi, Destiney Philoxy, Sydney Taylor, and Makennah White.

Last season’s appearance in the A-10 Championship game was the Minutewomen’s first time in 23 years.

Now fast forward about a year and UMass has made the A-10 Championship again. While last season’s UMass team could be considered an underdog, the current UMass team that is vying for the A-10 Championship is anything but an underdog.

The Minutewomen set the program record for wins in a single season this year, and have won nearly 81 percent of their games going, 25-6. Additionally, this season has seen the Minutewomen excel in conference play finishing with a 11-4 record. That record gave UMass the No. 3 seed in the A-10 tournament and earned them a double bye for the first two rounds of the tournament.

For the “Savage 7” having another year to play with each other only means that their chemistry is stronger. The experience that the Minutewomen have is something that simply can’t be overlooked as having seven players who have been in this spot before can provide a huge edge against a team that hasn’t been on the big stage. For UMass early game nerves and jitters shouldn’t be an issue.

The Minutewomen will face off against No. 1 seeded Dayton. Last season Dayton was the top seed and in the semifinal played against VCU who beat them 56-50. Coincidentally, in this years A-10 tournament Dayton and VCU squared off against one another again in the semifinals. However, this time around Dayton got its revenge winning 59-48.

There is no question that both UMass and Dayton are teams that are hungry for an A-10 championship.

The lone regular season matchup between these two team’s saw Dayton on top with a score of 69-60. In that game UMass shot the ball poorly in the first half and had problems containing Tenin Magassa on the interior. Also, Taylor struggled shooting going just 1-for- 10 from the field in 30 minutes of play.

With Taylor clicking on the offensive end, finishing with 20 points on Saturday along with Breen, who is fresh off a 28-point, nine rebound effort, the Minutewomen are in an ideal spot to take on Dayton.

Both UMass and Dayton are top teams in the A-10 which means that tomorrows showdown should be an entertaining one.

The A-10 championship will take place the at Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN2.

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @DiLucaJames.