Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass looks to out-dance Notre Dame on Saturday

Minutewomen embody 12th seed mentality
Maya Geer / Daily Collegian

In the 2022 NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournament, New England has a strong showing. No. 4 Providence on the men’s side, with Yale and Vermont as well. On the women’s side, No. 2 Connecticut. But there is only one team in both tournaments from Massachusetts.

“I tell my teammates all the time I like how our uniforms say ‘Massachusetts’ and not just ‘UMass,’” Sydney Taylor said. “It represents [all of] Massachusetts … there are [teams] killing to be in our position so it is important to represent UMass and go get a win.”

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team is ranked No. 12 in the tournament and will face No. 5 seeded Notre Dame on Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma.

With 26 tournament appearances and a 67-24 record, it’s no surprise that the Fighting Irish are a hot fifth seed, looking to rip through another March Madness tournament.

Muffet McGraw took Notre Dame to nine Final Fours, seven championship appearances with two wins in 2001 and 2019 respectively with a record of 905-272 over 32 seasons. McGraw retired after the 2020 season but didn’t take too much of that Fighting Irish luck with her.

The 2021-22 season ended with a 22-8 record with notable wins over No. 1 seed North Carolina State on Feb. 1, and Massachusetts’ own Boston College on Jan. 30. The Notre Dame name has some clear and obvious history on the women’s side of the tournament, but all bets are off when a new bracket is announced each year. However, head coach Tory Verdi is aware of what this current team is made of.

“My initial impression is that they are really good,” Verdi said of the Fighting Irish. “They have a lot of size, they do a great job of attacking in transition, that is going to be a huge key for us – stopping the ball early on … a lot of length at all positions, a lot of really skilled guards who like to attack and get to the rim.”

Verdi expressed that the Minutewomen needed to match Notre Dame’s physicality and meet at the boards; outrebounding the Fighting Irish on both ends will be crucial. Conveniently for UMass, Verdi compared Dayton’s advantages to Notre Dame’s in terms of guard length and size. The Minutewomen contained the Flyers on the boards which ultimately helped UMass go home victorious in the Atlantic 10 Championship, taking down the No. 1 seed.

Both teams use a quality high low game to produce on offense, with Destiney Philoxy and Olivia Miles commanding the facilitator spot. Verdi described Miles’ play as similar to Philoxy’s, but the freshman stands at 5-foot-10 inches to Philoxy’s 5-foot-7. Miles is averaging 7.2 assists on the year and 13.7 points.

Notre Dame plays mostly zone so Philoxy likely won’t be face guarded by Miles in the way Saint Louis’ Ciaja Harbison locked down Philoxy from half court, however UMass will have to produce on offense against the zone better than it did against Rhode Island’s in the regular season.

“We’re going to see a lot of zone,” Verdi said. “… When you see a lot of zone, you can’t settle just for 3-pointers, we have to have a balance scoring attack. Our guards have to do a great job of getting in the teeth of the zone.”

Against Rhode Island, UMass shot 27 3-pointers which is not what Verdi is looking for come Saturday night. Philoxy excelled at attacking the gaps against Dayton’s defense in the championship and was able to dish to Sam Breen or Angelique Ngalakulondi on the opposite block for easy layups. Those wide-open dish passes may come few and far between against the high-level zone that Notre Dame has, however Philoxy along with Ber’Nyah Mayo and Sydney Taylor can’t just play hot potato around the perimeter.

The Minutewomen could have faced any top 10 seed, with film being the main way to get a feel for their opponent. Notre Dame faced Boston College twice this season, splitting the series with the Eagles on top the first time around before the Fighting Irish took home the second win. UMass faced BC in December, losing by just six. In a tournament with endless possibilities and match ups, facing a team first round that has weathered through a similar storm could potentially make a huge difference.

Right before the BC game, UMass faced now ranked three seeded Iowa State in Nov. of 2021 which gave it a taste of what tournament play will be like. The five-point loss put the Minutewomen on the map early to prep them for the position they will be in come Saturday night. All eyes fall on every 12th seed given their immediate underdog status. UMass is no stranger to that mentality.

“When you play these types of games you have tendency to try a little too hard, we have to keep our compose and weather the storm, they are a good team, just like when we play Fordham … when they go on runs … you have to stick together,” Verdi said.

Tip off in Norman will be at 7:30 p.m.

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

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