Sam Breen’s fourth quarter shooting lifts UMass women’s basketball in A-10 quarterfinals

Breen drops 18 in the comeback win against Fordham

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Greg Fiume / Atlantic 10

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

WILMINGTON, Dela. — Angelique Ngalakulondi to Sam Breen. Five seconds on the shot clock, 38 seconds in the game. Breen dribbles left. Three, two, elevates, step back fade away jumper.

Nothing but net. Pure March basketball, pure madness.

She jumps to chest bump Sydney Taylor at the sound of a whistle for Fordham’s (18-10, 8-6 Atlantic 10) timeout. 61-57.

Normally NBA commentator Mike Breen yells “bang,” after deserving clutch shots. On Friday, Sam Breen’s father, also Mike Breen was the one who yelled bang when his daughter hit the game changing shot.

“When it was in the air, I was just hoping it went in,” Breen said. “Before [the shot] I was just thinking I can’t get a charge and she was shorter than me so [the] step back was the answer there.”

At the time of the shot, Breen was guiding the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s offense while riding four fouls. Since the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Breen had to be a careful instigator in a game where every foul, play and free throw mattered.

“Playing smart while still playing aggressive,” Breen said. “Not coming down with your hands on some of those shots, knowing some of the calls weren’t going our way so being smart with those, not gambling.”

To kick off the quarterfinal game with two of the best A-10 teams, the Rams looked like the probable successor. In part due to their crisp shooting and stops on defense but more specifically, Breen had just two points at halftime and none in the entire first quarter.

While her highlight real midrange buzzer extraordinaire of a shot was epic in its own right, Breen turned into a player in the fourth quarter that had every next shot become her biggest one of the night.

Less than nine minutes to play, a jump shot makes it a one-point game. Following a timeout, with 6:35 to play, Breen’s turnaround campaign began. That shot giving the Minutewomen a 55-52 lead. Next play on offense for UMass (24-6, 11-4 A-10,) the same thing. Breen catches, gathers, turnaround contested jumper extends the lead. 2:53 to play, Destiney Philoxy snatches the rebound on defense, finds Breen. Catches, gathers, turnaround contested jumper. 59-55, Fordham calls timeout.

“I was just thinking if I was going to get the catch on one on one in the post I just have to finish,” Breen said. “Everyone put a lot of trust in me, they knew I could hit those shots, I knew I could hit those shots so just knowing they trust me … and they [the shots] were going in.”

Breen said as of recently her turnaround shot has gone away but noted that on Friday, it was present.

“Once we got her going, there was nobody stopping her,” Taylor said of her teammate’s performance. “When [Breen] is hot, why not keep feeding the hot hand,” Philoxy added.

The Fordham team that UMass took down in the quarterfinals was in similar fashion to the game weeks ago. On Feb. 17, Breen finished with 21 points in the comeback win against the Rams and in her 100th game in a Minutewomen jersey on Friday, she notched another double-digit performance. She finished with 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting. She shot 80 percent from the charity stripe and grabbed six rebounds.

On Tuesday, Breen made UMass history by becoming the program’s first ever Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

“Obviously we saw the player of the year down the stretch in the second half and saw what she can do,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I see it every single day in practice … I just know she is ultra-competitive.”

Breen and the Minutewomen have minimal rest time before they face Saint Joseph’s in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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