Early substitutions provide energy and effort in UMass win

Minutewomen’s early substitution pay dividends in fourth quarter


Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

By Johnny Depin, Assistant Sports Editor

After the Massachusetts women’s basketball team lost in its second conference game of the year in disappointing fashion to Rhode Island, head coach Tory Verdi didn’t mince any words when describing what he thought of his team’s performance. His team turned the ball over 16 times and had allowed its opponent to hit 14 3-pointers.

“I know that I’ve got to make some personnel changes,” Verdi said after Wednesday’s loss. “I know that I’ve got to play more people because defensively, we’re not playing well.”

Saturday evening’s game opened up in a similar way that it had all season for the Minutewomen (12-4, 2-1 Atlantic 10) against Loyola Chicago; the usual starting five took the floor for opening tipoff, and as has been the case since beginning A-10 play, got off to a slow start. Verdi went to multiple substitutions at once in the first quarter for the first time this season, as Stefanie Kulesza, Makennah White and Alexzeya Brooks all saw the floor in the first 10 minutes of action.

After a game on Wednesday where Verdi used eight players for the majority of the 40 minutes, he had used that same amount within six minutes of Saturday’s contest. In a defensive first quarter where neither the Minutewomen nor the Ramblers’ (6-10, 1-2 A-10) could get their offense’s going, subs played a vital role in keeping fresh legs for the starters later in the game.

UMass held Loyola Chicago to 6-of-16 shooting in the fourth quarter, while allowing one 3-point make. The Minutewomen defense stifled their opponents for the majority of the second half, as the Ramblers’ shot 14-of-34 in the second half and 3-of-12 from beyond the arc.

“I would have liked to get some more minutes for some people, especially in the second half,” Verdi said. “We had to go to the bench early, especially with Ber’Nyah Mayo picking up two early fouls. But I do [think early substitutions helped us]. My goal is to expand our bench. Hopefully we can do it a little bit more in the next couple of games.”

Kulesza made a few big impact hustle plays, with her first coming in the second quarter. After missing her first 3-point attempt of the game, she rebounded her own miss, got the ball into the hands of a guard and allowed the offense to reset. This possession ultimately became a Sam Breen 3-pointer.

Kulesza wasn’t done, she created space off the ball and canned a 3-pointer to extend the Minutewomen lead back to seven right before the end of the half. Late in the fourth quarter, she grabbed another offensive rebound that generated another possession for UMass. Kulesza received stop and start playing time before Saturday, but she made the most of the nine minutes that she saw on the floor.

“I thought [Kulesza] came in and did a really good job, especially defensively,” Verdi said. “I thought she was aggressive and brought a lot of great energy.”

White, as she has done all season, came off the bench in relief of Angelique Ngalakulondi and provided solid minutes as the interior presence for the Minutewomen offense, dropping six points and five rebounds, two of which were offensive.

Early in the fourth while Loyola Chicago was mounting a comeback attempt, White boxed out the opposition, fought for the offensive board and gave UMass another possession that resulted in a pair of made free throws for Sydney Taylor. On a day where UMass needed to bounce back, the bench brought the energy that infected the rest of the team.

The Minutewomen are next in action of Saturday, Jan. 14, taking on Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Johnny Depin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.