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 falls in all three games of Cancun Challenge

Tough, tight schedule hurts Minutewomen
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team came up empty at the Cancun Challenge over the holiday break. The Minutewomen (1-7) fell to Green Bay, Washington State and Maryland during their time in Mexico.

Playing three games in three days, UMass had a tough schedule. Maryland (4-3) has made it to the NCAA tournament for 12 consecutive years and No. 23 Washington State (7-1) has seen the tournament for three years in a row as well. These two teams are by far the hardest competition the Minutewomen will face this season.

“Obviously the tournament itself was a huge challenge for us,” head coach Mike Leflar said. “I feel like I learned a lot about our team in these three games.”

With only eight active players going into the games, UMass could not relieve its starters when the score began to widen. The Minutewomen lost by large gaps in each game and couldn’t give bench players more playing time because of their short roster. After Jermany Mapp went down in the fourth quarter against Green Bay (4-2), the team’s active roster dwindled to seven. Their opponents had the luxury of extra players, with Maryland using their entire roster of 14.

“We were down to seven players [Friday] and [Saturday] and I was really proud of our mental toughness through some challenges and honestly our physical toughness,” Leflar said. “[Saturday] especially, it was a very physical game … bouncing back up off the floor after charges … diving for loose balls, 50/50 balls. Those were positives.”

Despite the challenge, four Minutewomen reached career-highs, Stefanie Kulesza, Lilly Taulelei, Dallas Pierce and Lilly Ferguson. Kulesza, a consistent scorer for UMass, contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds in Friday’s 90-48 loss to the Cougars. Taulelei notched 14 points against Maryland on Saturday, her new career high. Ferguson added a career-high eight points against the Terrapins as well. Pierce set her career-high seven points both against the Cougars and Terrapins.

“[Kulesza’s] performance Friday … she just gave everything she had. She was a total example of what I want our program to be and I hope people can follow in those footsteps,” Leflar said.

Able to play more minutes than most freshmen in Division I, Taulelei and Pierce took advantage of this opportunity by contributing consistent numbers to their team in Cancun. Pierce, a guard, used her 3-point shot to boost the Minutewomen, while Taulelei used her physicality in the paint to do just the same.

“Well I think for [Taulelei] and [Pierce] … they can score the basketball, so it’s nice to just get them time,” Leflar said.

Turnovers were frequent for UMass over each of the three games, giving teams extra opportunities to score. Likely due to the high-level teams they played, the Minutewomen turned the ball 28 times against Maryland, a trend that .

“We have to control the controllables. We cannot give teams free points … I think those are things individually that people have to own and learn from for us to get better,” Leflar said.

The Minutewomen were outrebounded in each of the three games. Most notably, Washington State snagged 48 rebounds to UMass’ 28 on Friday. Although Kulesza grabbed 24 rebounds total over the tournament, the team-high, her efforts weren’t enough to aid her team to a win.

UMass has a six-day break until it plays Yale on Friday Dec. 1. Still on the road, the Minutewomen tip-off at the John J. Lee Amphitheater at 7 p.m.

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

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