UMass punches its ticket to March Madness with a 62-56 win against Dayton

For the first time in 24 years the Minutewomen will head to the NCAA tournament

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Greg Fiume/ Atlantic 10

By James DiLuca, Collegian Staff

WILMINGTON, Dela. — Sunday marks a historic moment for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team as for the first time in program history UMass won an Atlantic 10 championship. In addition to winning the A-10 championship, the Minutewomen (26-6, 11-4 A-10) also find themselves moving on to the big dance for the first time this century.

“I have hoped for this day,” said UMass head coach Tory Verdi. “I have dreamed for this day for so many years, and now that is finally here it’s amazing to me. We got here because of the people that are in our program, it’s just not our players it’s our support system … everyone was invested every single day.”

The past two seasons have not been typical as UMass along with all of college basketball has had to deal with COVID-19. This season, the Minutewomen had a run in with health and safety protocols; at the end of December and into January, the team’s normal basketball activities had to come to a complete halt as a COVID-19 outbreak hit the team.

Despite having to deal with COVID-19, UMass seemingly did not miss a beat and was able to get right back on track as it won its first game in nearly a month against VCU.

The Minutewomen have been on an upward trend ever since Verdi took over the program, and on Friday, all of the hard work and preparation paid off. For UMass, the opportunity of playing in March Madness is a monumental one. The stage will allow for the Minutewomen to showcase what they can do to a larger audience.

“Throughout the course of the season the University and athletic department did a really good job,” said Verdi. “We started to get a little more respect and some were like, ‘let’s see what this women’s basketball team is all about’ … from day one I just wanted our fans to leave our games and say, ‘wow they play so hard.’”

A huge reason for UMass’ clinching an appearance in the NCAA tournament was the difficult shot making of Sam Breen and Sydney Taylor throughout the A-10 tournament. When UMass needed a bucket, Breen and Taylor each stepped up.

Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Breen drove right and stepped back along the baseline. She then proceeded to bury a tough midrange jumper, a shot that was reminiscent of a clutch basket she had in the last minute of the fourth quarter against Fordham two days prior.

Late in the first quarter of the game, Taylor displayed her ability to attack off the dribble as she took advantage of Dayton’s scrambling defense, dropping her defender who closed out to aggressively to the floor with a quick fake. Taylor then calmly dribbled into an open midrange which she knocked down.

Both Taylor and Breen showcased their full offensive repertoire, and it did not go unnoticed as they each made the A-10 all-tournament team. Breen took home the Most Outstanding Player award.

“It feels amazing,” Taylor said of the win. “We worked so hard, I know we worked so hard, and I knew that we were going to win it from the jump … We face so much adversity … I’m just very excited.”

The Minutewomen will return to Amherst as A-10 champions and patiently wait to hear more about their placement in the NCAA tournament.

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