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

Kesin: UMass needs a cleaner opening act

Minutewomen need to stop starting games off slow
Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

There is obvious truth to the fact that it doesn’t matter how you start a game, it just matters how you finish. In multiple games this year, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team has proven just that. Late comebacks to sizable victories, second chance effort through grit and grind in the fourth erasing first half mistakes.

The mental strength required in comeback efforts is invaluable, especially looking to tournament play. There is no downplaying the skill that it takes to collect a team, turn things around and pull out a win. However, what the Minutewomen need to do is learn how to play a quality first quarter; consistently.

Arguably, UMass (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10) has yet to really start a game strong at home. Right from the beginning, in the season opener against CCSU, the Minutewomen let a much less talented team hang for a little too long. It truly wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the defending Atlantic 10 champions pulled away in a game that could have been handled 20 minutes prior. In the next home game, UMass had just a 15-12 lead over Maine but then held the Black Bears completely scoreless for the entire second quarter, proving that the 12 points to start the game weren’t easy to come by. In its first Atlantic 10 conference play match up of the year, St. Bonaventure had a three point lead on the defending champions after the first 10, even though the Bonnies had won no more than three games all season.

The biggest area of improvement doesn’t lie in the points UMass allows its opponents to start the game but rather a more importantly an internal issue that the Minutewomen need to fix: turnovers.

Against Dartmouth on Dec. 28, UMass turned the ball over five times in the opening quarter, with six more turnovers to follow in the second. Given the 2-11 record the Big Green danced with heading into the game in Amherst, it makes sense the Minutewomen pulled away with the win, even with 21 turnovers. Head coach Tory Verdi acknowledged how disconnected his team was to start that game and how sloppy basketball led to many forced turnovers that Dartmouth took control of. However, following the 77-58 win, Verdi did admit, “I knew at some point in time we were going to take over.”

His team gave him no reason to believe otherwise this season, as almost every rocky first quarter was finished in the winning column.

It looked like in large part that Wednesdays conference loss would finish the way the Dartmouth game did, with a win after a rocky first half. Against Rhode Island, the Minutewomen started the game with five turnovers and only scored seven points in the opening quarter. Chemistry on the offensive end was at an all time low for UMass as the Rams (11-3, 2-0 A-10) sucked pure life out of the Minutewomen on their home turf.

The frustrating aspect of the slow starts that came back to ultimately bite the Minutewomen is that they are capable of much better basketball to begin. With the energy, intensity and speed that the enter roster plays with, there are no excuses for sloppy play especially with such a veteran team. Against Tennessee in November, UMass had one of its best first quarters all season and while it resulted in a loss, the Minutewomen played a hard four quarters of basketball, making it known that they were no joke to the then No. 5 team in the country.

With Atlantic 10 play and teams like Rhode Island, it is going to be easy to continue this routine of slow start, play catch up, stretch out the lead. The Rams composure was high level down the stretch but especially in the second and third quarter, hitting shots in the Minutewomen’s faces even when the crowd was rooting in favor of the UMass comeback. Teams will prepare for the later quarter resurgence and dedicate extra effort to maintaining streaky offense from the Minutewomen. Given how hard working and talented the Minutewomen are, there is no excuse heading into the depth of conference play that slow starts should remain a consistent trend.

First quarters give teams confidence and instead of letting UMass play at the speed it desires, slow starts force the Minutewomen to meet the style, level and speed that their opponents dictate. In some ways, there was a similar tone last season, as UMass was known for clawing its way back through tough games but what was its best basketball was in games like the Atlantic 10 tournament when the Minutewomen came out strong, taking it to the Flyers and maintaining their composure through the latter three quarters to pull out the win.

If UMass wants another A-10 banner to look at in March, its necessary that cleaner basketball is played to start each game, no matter how it ends.

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

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