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

UMass bests UAlbany 73-48 in first round of WNIT

Paint play proves successful for Minutewomen
Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

Coming off a conference championship loss paired with a two week break in play, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team turned around its luck with a WNIT first round  win against the University of Albany, 73-48.

The Great Danes’ (22-12, 14-2 America East) focus on defense was not enough to stop UMass (27-6, 14-2 Atlantic-10) forwards Angelique Ngalakulondi and Makennah White. The Mintuewomen’s game plan emphasized the importance of play in the paint which Ngalakulondi and White delivered. Ngalakulondi finished with a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds, with efficiency in the paint on both ends of the floor. White added 12 points and six rebounds, trading baskets with her teammate down low.

“Obviously [Ngalakulondi] did a phenomenal job on the boards and got second-chance opportunity points for us,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “Our inside play between [White], [Ngalakulondi], and Sam [Breen] was terrific.”

Breen, although not having a stand-out game, still added another double-double onto her resume. She finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and one block.

“We practiced a lot to defend her. It’s a combination of she’s not going to have the best night of her career every night and we tried to make her feel uncomfortable,”  UAlbany’s head coach Colleen Mullen said.

With height differential being a key factor in Ngalakulondi’s performance in the post, UMass took advantage of this separation and continued to highlight the paint.

“That was a big emphasis going into the game, just pound the paint and get the ball into our post players,” Sydney Taylor said.

Shots from behind the arc continued to go up in the opening minutes of the game, something that Verdi said went against the Minutewomen’s strategy. With 3-pointers  not falling, paint play soon followed. As UMass racked up points in the paint, it pulled away.

With shots starting to fall, defense and rebounding picked up. UMass’ offense gave its defense the confidence to perform better and stretch out its lead.

“I did think that we did change the momentum of the game with our post play. I thought we did a better job of attacking the paint, that was our goal offensively,” Verdi said.

With production on both ends of the floor picking up, Verdi felt more comfortable expanding his bench to the younger end of the team. Sophomores Laila Fair and Stefanie Kulesza each saw the court, with nine and 13 minutes respectively. Fair was put in quickly after Breen picked up her second foul at the end of the second quarter.

“Especially moving forward, like today, I want to sub a little bit more. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do all season long,” Verdi said. “We want to make sure that we’re doing a great job of developing the players off the bench for the future of this program.”

With 12 days since the last game, the starting fivesought relief in their bench. White, per usual,  switched roles with Ngalakulondi in the post. As Fair and Kulesza continue to chip in in short spurts, UMass gains trust in its bench to keep the level of play up to standards.

“When you have the A-10 player of the year, it’s hard to get minutes. [Breen]’s going to play. It’s not that [Fair] can’t play or she’s not that good, it’s just [Breen]’s that good,” Verdi said.

Having four players in double-digits gave UMass the confidence, Mullen says, to push past the rough first quarter and perform to the level that has been shown in the regular season. Mullen wanted to mitigate this burst of confidence by slowing down the Great Danes offense.

“We did talk a lot in the timeout saying ‘we can’t play at this pace, we need to slow the game down to a tempo that they’re uncomfortable with,’” Mullen said.

The Minutewomen found a comfortable rhythm in the second half of the game, and broke down UAlbany’s defense to the point of no return. With Taylor finding her individual stroke, narrow scoring in the paint opened up to 3-point land. Taylor ended the night with 19 points, six rebounds and two assists.

The Minutewomen are on to the next round of the WNIT on Monday. With home court advantage, they are set to play Harvard at 7 p.m.

Rachel Toth can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RachelToth46.

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