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: Little things guide UMass through rocky first win of A10 tournament

Minutewomen fight through poor offensive performance
Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

Wilmington, Del., – A win is a win, especially in March. The Massachusetts women’s basketball team spent a lot of Friday’s early morning match up against No. 9 George Mason playing catch up but ultimately came alive enough in the fourth quarter to pull out a 13 point win.

Kristin Williams went up to Sydney Taylor following the final buzzer holding up just one finger, and if my lip reading skills are correct, Williams said one down, implying that Friday’s game is just one of the hopeful three games top seeded UMass is looking to win. Given the quick turnaround throughout the Atlantic 10 tournament if you win and advance, it makes sense to put the game behind you after the final 10 minutes, but what is important to look at before the Minutewomen write this one off is how they got it done. It wasn’t pretty basketball and a lot of what makes UMass the well-oiled machine it is wasn’t there on Friday. What sparked productivity through an overall slug fest were doing the little things, making up for the overall lack of success from the field, tenacity on the boards and lack of UMass style basketball.

Less than three minutes into the fourth, Angelique Ngalakulondi’s layup was barely entered in the stat sheet before Ber’Nyah Mayo stole the ball on George Mason’s inbound pass and found Sydney Taylor who drilled a much needed 3-pointer to push the score 46-41. Taylor’s shot wasn’t perfect to start the day so the made basket not only stretched UMass’ late lead but put confidence in the Minutewomen’s best shooter who spent the early minutes watching the ball rim out.  Mayo could have easily sat back and face guarded her man off the initial pass but instead she knew the Patriots would try to pass it in quickly, getting the Minutewomen off balance on defense. Mayo lingered, hiding a bit and poked the ball, finding Taylor who knew it was her shot, setting her teammate up for a contested triple. Mayo said that all game assistant coach Lynne-Ann Kokoski told her to make plays, it didn’t matter on offense or defense but just to impact the game little by little. That steal ultimately turned a smaller moment into fuel for quality offense.

Before the Minutewomen’s final home game against George Washington on Feb. 25, head coach Tory Verdi said he wanted strong defense to start the game, to come out relentless in the first 10 minutes however what lit up Mullins in the opening quarter was undoubtedly UMass’ hot start on offense. Good movement and quality buckets on one end comes from quality stops on the defensive end so after the Patriots 9-2 run that caused an early Friday morning timeout, there wasn’t a whole lot of goodness the Minutewomen could work off of on both sides of the ball.

A statistic that UMass normally dominates is on the glass, but George Mason took to the defending conference champions with a 48-38 total rebound advantage on the day. Especially when the ball isn’t falling like it wasn’t for the Minutewomen in the first, second chance efforts made a night and day difference. Mayo’s 3-ball was far from there, going 0-for-5 from downtown but with 1:08 in the third quarter, Mayo’s long weak side rebound looked to be in the hands of two George Mason defenders. However, Makennah White fought through, securing the second chance rebound after Destiney Philoxy already kept the play alive with an offensive board seconds prior, hitting Philoxy again whose layup attempt sent her to the free throw line.

Philoxy’s defensive prowess arguably carried the second half comeback. With just five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Philoxy disrupted the long inbounds pass to the Patriots near half court, instead of waiting for the pass to insert and sitting down in a defensive stance afterwards. The turnover not only stopped any potential offense for George Mason but on the next play down, she grabbed an offensive board through traffic despite her sizable height disadvantage and hit Stef Kulesza for the triple attempt. On the miss, Philoxy grabbed another board and on her miss, chased down her defender who dribbled right at White. White stepped up on help, just enough to disrupt the flow of the fast break and the Patriot guard dribbled out of bounds. Associate head coach Mike Leflar got on his feet, while White’s verbal “YES” was heard throughout the loud Chase Field House arena.

Clock management also played out to be a crucial factor as UMass maturely handled situations where taking more time off the clock rather than pushing the pace worked in its favor. With seven seconds left in an ugly first half, White hit Mayo who caught the ball in the opposite corner of the Minutewomen’s basket. Mayo dribbled, avoiding stopping on a dime at any point for the jumper and instead hit Sam Breen on the low block with enough time to score the layup, grabbing a whopping one point lead heading into halftime.

In the fourth, points off turnovers rewrote the game but it didn’t mean UMass had to hit fast break layups every time. Once the Minutewomen stopped punching it into the paint with a swarming defense, ball movement and driving past defenders on the initial catch sent them to the foul line with plenty of time taken off the clock.

Following the win against Rhode Island on Feb. 16, Taylor told media that Ngalakulondi controls her own minutes by fouling or not, and I’d advocate for Ngalakulondi’s ability to stay straight up on Friday, altering a lot of the post players offense but not fouling and sending them to the line unnecessarily. She pulled down eight rebounds to go with her nine points, tying Breen with the second best plus minus on the day.

What prevented a lot of the Minutewomen’s first half offense was a great double team from George Mason on Sam Breen and UMass failed to find looks without forcing the ball to Breen. With 5:39 in the fourth, the Minutewomen were inbounding the ball on the left side, and Taylor noticed that the defense sat back, protecting the paint more and putting an emphasis on nothing easy to Breen. She made a nod at her teammate and once Breen fed Taylor, she pulled the trigger to make it a 10 point game. Verdi applauded his team’s fight against the initial punch and little adjustments mid game made the difference in a 13 point, 63-50 win on Friday.

UMass will have to learn from its mistakes to face the winner of Richmond or Fordham on Saturday, with the semifinal match up scheduled for 11 a.m. in Delaware.

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

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    Judith FahertyMar 3, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    Wished I could have been there, but so glad to be able to read this great picture of the game. Go Minutewomen!