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 is better than its record

Minutewomen start A-10 play 1-3, 3-13 overall
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team has started Atlantic 10 conference play with a paltry 1-3 record, after beating Dayton, but losing to VCU, Saint Louis and most recently, Richmond on Wednesday morning, 79-65. This start in conference play comes after the Minutewomen (3-13, 1-3 A-10) finished up their non-conference schedule with a record of 2-10. From an outside perspective, it doesn’t look like there has been much improvement for UMass as it gets into the dog days of the season. But there has been.

Whether it’s the team as a whole finding their identity as a passionate team who play with “controllable emotion” as Alexsia Rose said following the loss to Saint Louis, individual players beginning to hit their stride, or just being that team that’s able to take the punch from the opposition, absorb it, and throw it right back at them, the Minutewomen, at least from the start of conference play, have played better than a 3-13 record would indicate.

One thing that the Minutewomen clearly developed in the time between the end of non-conference play and the start of conference play was the identity of a team who will make the opposition work hard for every bucket. One downside to this intense, physical style of basketball is that it leads to foul trouble, something that UMass already struggled with. On Wednesday against the Spiders (14-3, 4-0 A-10) the Minutewomen took six free throws to Richmond’s 19. UMass hit five while the Spiders hit 15, a 10 point disparity that could have made a 14 point game much closer.

But on the upside of this physical, smash mouth style of defense, the Minutewomen have forced more turnovers than they’ve committed in every game since conference play started. On Wednesday, in a game where UMass lost by 14, it forced Richmond into committing 17 turnovers which the Minutewomen got 15 points from. If they continue to generate easy offense off the mistakes of their opponents while also cutting down on the fouls that sunk the ship on Wednesday, this team becomes a dangerous force both on defensed and in transition offense.

Many of the improvements that UMass has made as a collective start with the aforementioned Rose. Dealing with a leg injury at the beginning of the season, she missed much of non-conference play, seeing just 36 minutes total in the last two games before A-10 play began. Since moving into the starting lineup for the first time against VCU, Rose is averaging 10.25 points to go along with 4.25 assists a game. Saint Louis was a coming out party of sorts for her, as she finished with 18 points, nine assists and three steals.

Kristin Williams is another who’s turned up the heat since Dec. 30, averaging just under 15 points per game, while shooting just under 33 percent from 3-point territory. Williams, as one of the three returners along with Lilly Ferguson and Stefanie Kulesza, has made a gigantic leap in her production from last season, as her career high in conference play last season was six points, a number she’s eclipsed in all four conference games so far.

With those two heating up, it’s no surprise that the Minutewomen’s average margin of victory (or loss in this case) has dropped over 10 points since conference play began, going from 17.1 points as the average margin of loss during non conference play, to a flat seven point margin of loss in the four A-10 games. And even that seven point margin is a bit misleading, as a 20 point loss to those same Rams weigh down what is, when you remove that conference opener, a three point average margin of loss in the succeeding three conference games.

But there’s a reason that these games are played for 40 minutes, and throughout all of non-conference play and VCU, it was hard for the Minutewomen to string together 40 minutes of complimentary and quality basketball. But beginning with its victory against Dayton, UMass, while not always outscoring its opponent in the latter 20 minutes, always has a path to victory according to head coach Mike Leflar.

“It’s continuing to take steps,” Leflar said. “I think we’re close … there were some times in that second half when things got tight, where we just tried to do it ourselves, and I think we just [got to] keep sticking together and working together.”

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

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