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

Depin: UMass’ early 9-0 run shows the importance of starting games strong

Minutewomen take down A-10 No. 1 seed Rhode Island
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian

In its previous game against the University of Rhode Island on Jan. 4, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team was outscored 19-7 in the first 10 minutes of action. It was the Minutewomen’s (22-4, 12-1 Atlantic 10) first conference loss of the season in only their second game, putting them at a paltry .500 winning percentage in conference play.

Since that date, UMass has not lost a game but still sat in second thanks to the Rams (21-4, 12-1 A-10) concurrent win streak in conference play. When the top two teams in the A-10 met for the second time on Thursday night, the Minutewomen decided to deliver the knockout blow 1:49 seconds into the first quarter, starting the game on a 9-0 run before URI head coach Tammi Reiss used her first timeout. A good start, nay, a great start was imperative for UMass on Thursday. It would win 78-57.

“I’d love to start like that every game,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “You go back to the first time that we played [URI] and the roles were reversed … I knew we were locked in [Thursday]. I’ve felt it all week, in our preparation and what we did back home. I knew that we were going to be ready for it.”

Since conference play began and even with the Minutewomen in the thralls of their win streak, the one knock on them was that they tended to start off games with little focus, playing undisciplined and slow basketball. Take, for instance, their start against Loyola Chicago on Jan. 7. UMass lost the first quarter 11-10, but it would eventually win 76-59. As conference play has dragged on, the Minutewomen began to ramp up their intensity in the opening minutes.

Their 19-4 first quarter against George Mason last Sunday seemed like the pinnacle of this evolution. UMass’ start on Thursday disproved this theory almost immediately. Verdi was clear to state he believes that his squad is playing their best basketball right now.

The Ryan Center, the home of the Rams, is known for having passionate fans who get the building rocking. It was decidedly muted for the first 1:49, something that I’m sure added even more fuel to the fire for UMass. One team can’t hold another scoreless for the entirety of the game, however so when URI hit it’s first shot of the game, that building came alive. For the rest of the first quarter, the two squads played more evenly, with the score being 24-13 after the first 10 minutes.

With 5:18 left in the third quarter, the importance of the opening barrage from the Minutewomen became even more apparent. The Rams cut the lead to nine, threatening to diminish the lead even more. UMass responded with a 10-0 run to push the lead to 19, and URI never seriously threatened the substantial lead again, with the closest it ever came being 12 points early in the fourth quarter.

If the Minutewomen had opened the game like they did previously against the Rams, or if they had even kept pace, the outcome of this game could have been very different. After the first quarter concluded, UMass would outscore its opponent by 10 over the next 30 minutes. Both squads notched 15 points in the second quarter and it seemed as though each team had an answer for the opposition.

Thursday’s game would have had a remarkably different feel at halftime if it was a two or three possession game. It wasn’t as though all hope was lost for Rhode Island; an 11 point lead can disappear in an instant. But for the Minutewomen, having that safety cushion off the back of their 9-0 run to start the game, that gave them something to build on and something to protect.

There is no doubt in my mind that Thursday’s contest wouldn’t have been a 21-point, blowout win for UMass without the first 1:49 of the game. If they want to carry their win streak all the way through the A-10 championship and possibly the NCAA tournament, starts like Thursday’s for the Minutewomen definitely won’t hinder their cause.

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

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