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

Keep the old, welcome the new

A look at UMass women’s basketball’s 2022-23 roster
Shilpa Sweth / Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team looks rather familiar. As game day rolls around, most people are asking head coach Tory Verdi about his rotations.

Historically, Verdi typically runs a seven- or eight-player rotation. Even before the “Savage Seven” nickname that came to fruition when the Minutewomen competed in the 2021 Atlantic 10 championship with only seven players, it was a short rotation.

A year later, UMass returned to the championship game with its leader Sam Breen, spark plug Destiney Philoxy, sharpshooter Sydney Taylor and calm floor general Ber’Nyah Mayo. Both Angelique Ngalakulondi and Makennah White shared the fifth spot most of the season, with Verdi starting either for various reasons over the course of the year.

Ngalakulondi had her career night in February against St. Bonaventure, notching 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, displaying a well-practiced and polished pick and roll game with Mayo. The now senior didn’t begin the season in the starting five but earned her spot through offensive rebounding and second effort plays.

White embraced the sixth man role by giving the Minutewomen a much-needed boost off the bench with her short jumper. The forward has a reliable float-like jumper in the paint that surprises post players who sit back to defend.

Game by game, Verdi alternated depending on the opponent’s physicality and style of play. No matter who sat in the first five and who came off the bench, the two both brought home the A-10 championship for UMass in March and are keystones to the Minutewomen roster this upcoming year.

In the A-10 semifinals, UMass faced a young, energetic Saint Joseph’s team that was coming off the high of upsetting No. 2 Rhode Island. The Minutewomen knew freshman Laila Fair was a skilled, mature forward who played physical basketball. White switched the screens and brought offensive prowess with 10 points off the bench but Fair still chipped in 16 of her own.

This year, White or Ngalakulondi don’t have to worry about facing Fair anymore. The Hawks’ star transferred. She’s now their teammate.

Sophomore Laila Fair joins UMass’ star-studded frontcourt. While a Hawk, Fair started in 15 of 24 games, averaged 8.6 points and notched two 20-point games over the course of the season, which earned her a spot on the 2022 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team.

Fair hails from Middlesex, New Jersey where she won a state title her junior year with Stuart Country Day School. At 6-foot-2-inches, Fair’s skill and speed will bode well for the fast yet controlled style of basketball the Minutewomen want to play. White and  Ngalakulondi are different assets that Verdi will utilize but having Fair will only deepen UMass’ inside game.

Ngalakulondi is a senior, Breen is in her final year and White is a junior so that veteran leadership is there. Fair’s youth combined with her mentality to buy into the Minutewomen program can create successful basketball for UMass this year and beyond.

Piath Gabriel is a noticeable transfer for her height as the junior stands at 6-foot-5-inches, but also for her previous school: Connecticut. UConn is the powerhouse of women’s basketball and last year, she appeared in 13 games for the Huskies.

Verdi says Gabriel runs like a guard despite her height, with extreme speed and agility on the floor. He will likely utilize her speed and experience to lead the Minutewomen in post-production and fast break play as Verdi loves one-legged layup opportunities.

Following her commitment to UMass, Verdi said he expects her to anchor the defense with her length and size.

Sydney Taylor leads the Minutewomen in outside shooting. The now senior, averaged 15.9 points per game and started all 33 games for UMass. She had a career high 32 points on 12 field goals against VCU in January and had 10 points over Dayton in the championship.

While Verdi knows both Philoxy and Mayo can shoot from 3-point territory when they need to, he is excited about what transfer Kristin Williams will bring.

Williams can shoot from long range and as a sophomore, will bring a youthful backup to Taylor’s perimeter game. Originally from San Diego, she played at Pensacola State College in Florida last year where she averaged 13.4 points per game, before transferring to the much colder Amherst, Mass.

Verdi says Williams is dynamic and can score on multiple levels.

Rounding out the group of newcomers is the one true freshman, Lilly Ferguson. The 5-foot-10-inch rookie saw quality minutes in UMass exhibition game against Assumption, playing up to speed with her teammates despite her early college career.

With all this depth and talent, the big question is how will Verdi manage minutes.

“To be honest with you, I am going into this, I know what to expect from my returners and I still got to get acclimated to newbies in our program,” Verdi said a week before game day. “A lot of those [new players] are still figuring out our system and I am looking to be able to depend on them so the rotations may be every single night we take the court, I don’t know. But as of right now, they will be sharing a lot of minutes … it’s all going to depend on the game, the situation we are in.”

UMass starts its 2022-23 campaign as reigning conference champions on Monday at 5 p.m. against Central Connecticut State University.

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

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    Judy FahertyNov 6, 2022 at 7:43 pm

    Sounds like it’s going to be an exciting season with all the depth in the team. This articl gives a great description of what we can expect.