UMass women’s basketball defeats Dayton to win A-10 Tournament

Minutewomen advance to NCAA Tournament for third time in program history

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Greg Fiume/ Atlantic 10

By Michael Araujo, Collegian

WILMINGTON, Dela. — Confetti rained down the Chase Fieldhouse Arena as the Massachusetts women’s basketball team defeated Dayton to be crowned the Atlantic 10 tournament champions.

“Last year was devastating [to lose in the A-10 final],” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “As soon as we lost, we talked about how we needed to be different. [Destiny] Philoxy turned to me and said ‘Why do we have to be different when we got to the A-10 championship?’. I said because we didn’t win it. It was from that point forward that we talked about winning the day. That means preparing each and every single day. Coming to practice and giving it our best each and every single day.”

UMass (26-6, 11-4 A-10) certainly won the day on Sunday and they did it in commanding fashion, taking down the No. 1 seed to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Earlier in the season Dayton defeated the Minutewomen in their only meeting of the year, 69-60. This time around, UMass firmly placed itself in the driver’s seat right from the tipoff.

The Flyers (25-5, 14-1 A-10) play their best brand of basketball when they are pushing the ball in transition and finding open shooters on the wing. UMass shut that down on Sunday. The Minutewomen played stifling, close-knit defense on the perimeter and shut down the lane to the baseline. Dayton shot 3-of-10 from the field and went 0-for-5 from three in the first quarter, while UMass took a 20-11 lead.

“Last night, we left [the team meeting] and I didn’t feel good about the game plan,” Verdi said. “The more I watched film… it just clicked that I wasn’t secure with [the game plan]. So I called an early meeting this morning. My staff gave great suggestions and we made some adjustments and re-tooled some things defensively.”

Dayton eventually adjusted its strategy and started driving and kicking the ball out right as UMass would overextend and before the Minutewomen could rotate. Things looked a little bleak as Dayton slowly began crawling back and brought the score within two points. Angelique Ngalakulondi came up big when it mattered for UMass. She grabbed the rebound of a missed free throw and dished it out to a wide-open Sam Breen who hit the 3-pointer, flexing as she strutted down the court. With time winding down in the first half, Ngalakulondi received a dump-off pass from Alexzeya Brooks and banked home the tough layup through contact as the shot clock expired. Swishing her foul shot, Ngalakulondi had put her team up 37-28. She finished with nine points, four rebounds and a block in the game.

“That was a huge offensive board,” Breen said. “I don’t know how [Ngalakulondi] saw me on that pass. I think right from the jump, from the first possession momentum was in our favor. [Dayton] went on their runs but momentum was with us the whole time.”

Coming out of the locker room for the second half, UMass didn’t skip a beat. Breen picked up right where she left off with a step back jump shot on one leg. She was her usual, dominant self, as she tallied a game-high 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go along with nine rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“The best decision I ever made was coming [to UMass],” Breen said. “I’m so thankful, grateful, blessed and everything in between that coach Verdi recruited me and gave me a chance to go [to UMass]… Blessed is truly an understatement and I’ve honestly never been happier and [winning the championship] just tops it off.”

Ber’Nyah Mayo followed up Breen’s energetic play by crashing the boards on the next possession, snagging the offensive rebound and getting fouled on the put back. The next time down the floor, it was Makennah White who cleaned up the glass and delivered the put back shot. Mayo notched 14 points, five rebounds and a steal, while White accumulated ten points and six rebounds.

Philoxy got into foul trouble early in the contest and was limited in the first half as a result. She went scoreless in the game, but regardless, made her presence felt by excelling as a distributor. She had a game-high five assists as well as three rebounds.

For the entirety of the contest, every player was focused on doing their job. UMass played to the beat of its own drum and didn’t fade when Dayton made an incredible push at the end. A potential final run by the Flyers was thwarted by Mayo, who had the Minutewomen’s last six points in the final four minutes of the game and was clinical from the free-throw line, going 4-for-4.

UMass awaits its fate as the remaining of the selections fill out over the weekend to find out who it plays and where for the NCAA Tournament.

Michael Araujo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Araujo_Michael_.