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

Takeaways from UMass’ exhibition victory against Assumption

Minutewomen tops Greyhounds 88-80 in the start of the Mike Leflar era
Amber Dillon

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team showed a season preview on Sunday afternoon, topping Assumption University 88-80 in its exhibition game. Although not the prettiest start, the Minutewomen found their stride, showing strengths on offense and defense in the win against the Division II greyhounds. Here are my takeaways:

Five inactive players

Starting their season, the Minutewomen have five inactive players, and look to suit more players in the upcoming games. Alexsia Rose, Allie Palmieri, Avery Childers, Chineye Odenigbo and Mikenzie Jones, all UMass newcomers, were not dressed for Sunday’s game. With most of these players out on injury, UMass will look to coach them back to health to add to the bench depth.

Once eligible, forward Odenigbo, a 6-foot-5 freshman, will look to add height to the team in the paint, picking up defensive and offensive rebounds. Jones, a sophomore, comes to UMass after her freshman season at Denver where she succeeded in pulling down boards and showed impact on the court.

“Hopefully we’ll get a couple of those guys back in the next few weeks, that’s our goal,” head coach Mike Leflar said. “They’re all progressing at their own pace but I think we’ve asked them to stay connected and stay engaged because it’s going to take all 13 of us every single practice and every single game.”

With UMass’ opener coming soon on Nov. 6, it is uncertain whether any of the five will be ready to go, but it is certain that once all 13 Minutewomen are ready to play, the team will be fully ready to compete at a high level.

Struggles with transition defense

While UMass came out on top, the Minutewomen struggled to get back and play defense during fast paced gameplay. Although not lacking in height or skill, UMass let up too many points simply from a lack of defensive speed.

“At times we weren’t back and set, and there’s really no excuse for that,” Leflar said. “We will definitely learn from it, and if we’re learning and improving at this time of year then we are in the right depiction.”

Rebounds were not an issue, with 27 defensive rebounds coming from the Minutewomen against the Greyhounds, as well as 20 offensively. By strengthening transition defense and quickly setting into position, UMass will look to eliminate opponents scoring opportunities.

With more cohesive defensive efforts all around, 50/50 balls and loose balls will hope to be eliminated from the Minutewomen’s defense. More importantly, as the team improves together, speed and alertness will come naturally. Leflar added, every possession has to matter, which nods to further improvement on the defensive end.

Freshman came to play

Dallas Pierce and Lilly Taulelei both came ready to play against Assumption.

Coming off the bench early in the first quarter, Taulelei played both sides of the ball, looking like a natural on the Mullins Center court. The 6-foot-3 freshman comes to UMass from Wellington, New Zealand after playing for the Tokomanawa Queens, the reigning 2022 Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa champions.

Taulelei went six for 10 in the field goal range, scoring 14 as well as snagging three rebounds.

Once Pierce touched the court, there was no stopping her. She showed off her skills, going coast to coast in the second quarter, scoring the first two out of her 12 points. Going five for six, with two 3-point shots, Pierce will be an offensive aid this season off the bench.

“Offensively [Lily and Dallas] did a great job, they were both really really aggressive,” Leflar said. “It’s something that our coaching staff has talked with them and shown them film and worked on, and to see that happen in a game, I’m happy for our staff and for our team.”

Pierce and Taulelei scored a collective 26 points, accounting for half of the 40 points scored from players off the bench. Both are ready to play at the collegiate level, and certainly showed their capabilities.

“For us to be the best team we can be, it’s gonna be by committee,” Leflar said.

Stefanie Kulesza is ready for a new role

During her past three seasons as a Minutewomen, Kulesza has played guard. As one of the three returning players, she has stepped up, switching to forward for UMass’ 2023 campaign.

“Croatia was a great way for us to bond and for me to have a new role on the team,” Kulesza said. “My role from last year was a lot different so I think all the practices, all the individuals that we’ve had and the three games in Croatia, our scrimmage and the exhibition has given me a lot of practice.”

During her sophomore season, Kulesza scored a game high seven points during a match up with Missouri. If anything, Sunday’s game showed that the work Kulesza has been putting in has paid off, tallying a double-double during the exhibition.

Her 19 points were joined by 15 rebounds, blowing any past stats out of the water. Out of her 15 boards, 10 were put back up offensively leading to scoring opportunities.

“One of my main goals each and every game and practice is to have the most effort out on the floor, and points aren’t always gonna be my thing and all the baskets are not gonna go in the hoop, so you have to have one thing to fall back on and i just really enjoy rebounding,” Kulesza said.

Kulesza was joined in double figures by Lilly Ferguson and Kristin Williams, with both returning players adding 14.

“Stef brings the effort,” Leflar said. “Every possession we need that to rub off.”

The Minutewomen take the Mullins Center court on Monday, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. for their home opener against St. Josephs.

Lucy Postera can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @lucypostera

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