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 needs stronger interior defense in Atlantic 10 Championship game

Minutewomen allow 36 points in the paint on Saturday
Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

Despite beating Richmond by 20 points, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team needs a stronger presence on the interior, especially on the defensive end. The Spiders (20-10, 8-6 Atlantic 10) scored a total of 60 points, of which a whopping 36 came in the paint. Addie Budnik, the six-foot-two-inch junior and member of all-conference second team scored 25 points on Saturday, leading all scorers. Of her 25, 16 of those points came in the painted area, with her other nine coming by way of one 3-pointer and six made free throws.

The Minutewomen (26-5, 14-2 A-10) actually matched Richmond’s point total in the paint, but their points in the paint accounted for a much smaller percentage than the Spiders (45 percent for UMass, 60 percent for Richmond). Budnik is a great offensive player, and she showed that with her performance. No one else in the Spiders starting lineup cracked double-digits and no one on Richmond demonstrated the same prowess that she did in the paint. But can that be said for whoever UMass’ next matchup is?

Let’s start with Saint Louis. It employs two six-foot-five-inch forwards in Brooke Flowers and Nafatoumata Haidara. Haidara’s season high for minutes is nine, so let’s focus more on Flowers. Flowers finished the season as the Co-Defensive Player of the Year while also being named to the all-conference third team. It was Flowers and the Billikens that ended the Minutewomen’s record 12-game winning streak, but how did she personally preform that game?

Flowers finished with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting, while also gobbling up 13 boards, five of which were offensive. These numbers are slightly higher than her season averages, as she averaged 10.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. It’s not just Flowers that UMass has to worry about on the interior; shooting just over 27 percent from beyond the arc as a team forces Saint Louis to have crisp ball movement and find the open player in the paint or near it. In their most recent matchup, the Minutewomen allowed 32 points in the paint to Flowers and her squad. Saint Louis was one of only two teams to defeat UMass in conference play this season.

The other team that defeated the Minutewomen in A-10 play could just as likely be their opponent in the championship game, that being Rhode Island. Maye Toure dominated for the Rams the entire regular season, averaging 13.9 on incredible efficiency, shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. The last time these two squads met wasn’t indicative of Toure’s performance, as she finished with seven points on 2-of-5 shooting.

The first time these two teams met on Jan. 4 wasn’t exactly indicative of UMass’ ability to preform, as it fell behind early and never really got back into the game after the first quarter. Both times that the Rams and the Minutewomen have played, at least one of them didn’t play their best basketball.

So what led to Budnik’s explosion Saturday? UMass had a man-to-man defense that emphasized switching on ball screens. Richmond turned this into bunnies for Budnik, as either Angelique Ngalakulondi or Makennah White would go out to defend the perimeter player, while Destiney Philoxy or Ber’Nyah Mayo were alone on an island in the paint. In its previous game against George Mason, whoever the forward was flashed up to the perimeter before diving back down to cover the big in the paint.

This style of defense was very effective in limiting the amount of 3-pointers that the Spiders hit; they shot 21.1 percent from behind the line when their season average is 35 percent. 3-pointers will always be more valuable than shots taken inside the arc, and by limiting Richmond’s bread and butter, the Minutewomen found themselves the victors in the end.

Against Rhode Island, this defensive strategy could work. It is another team that likes to take its 3-pointers and it has a pretty good success rate, shooting at a slightly higher clip than the Spiders at 35.5 percent. Toure is also stellar on the offensive glass, giving the Rams many second chance opportunities.

Against Saint Louis, the Minutewomen may want to stick with their “fake the big up, dive down to the paint” defense. That defense burned them the last time these two squads met up, as the Billikens hit 10 of their 20 3-point attempts. As head coach Tory Verdi said after his squads loss in Saint Louis, the Billikens are a team that doesn’t knock down 3-pointers consistently. Sticking with the tried and true defensive scheme seems like the best option.

Regardless of who UMass plays, the battle on the interior will decide the game.

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

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