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 on Senior Day 63-49 to VCU

Minutewomen lose 13th consecutive game
Dylan Nguyễn
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team lost its 13th consecutive game on Saturday, falling 63-49 to VCU on Senior Day. The Minutewomen (3-24, 1-14 Atlantic 10) celebrated their two graduate students, Bre Bellamy and Tori Hyduke, in pregame festivities. But it was the double-big freshman duo of Chinenye Odenigbo and Lilly Taulelei who shined in their first start together.

Odenigbo tied her career high with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, along with four rebounds and two blocks. Taulelei dropped seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with 10 rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal. In addition, Odenigbo and Taulelei held the Rams (22-4, 11-3 A-10) starting forward duo of Lucia Sotelo Miguez and Mykel Parham to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.

With the double-big starting lineup, the Minutewomen essentially kept pace regarding both offensive and defensive rebounding, something that has been a struggle as of late. In its last contest against URI, UMass allowed 40 rebounds to its 31, while in Saturday’s contest, it snagged 29 rebounds to the Rams 35. Taulelei grabbed more than double the amount of offensive rebounds than anyone else who saw the floor for either squad on Saturday, finishing with five offensive boards. Taulelei was also the game leader for overall rebounding, finishing four ahead of Timaya Lewis-Eutsey who had six.

“I was just really pleased [Saturday] that [they] stayed out of foul trouble, we were able to play some zone early on … right across the board, I felt people really went in and competed,” head coach Mike Leflar said. “[Taulelei], [Odenigbo] did a great job [Saturday], staying out of foul trouble early.”

With VCU taking a nine point lead into halftime, UMass started a mini run of its own to open the third quarter. A 6-0 run by the Minutewomen was powered off the back of three steals in 45 seconds by Stefanie Kulesza, who ended the game with four pockets picked. Four of the six points in the aforementioned run came from Kulesza, who went one of two at the charity stripe with 7:23 left in the quarter. Taulelei grabbed the offensive rebound and found Kulesza who floated to the 3-point line, and cashed one of her three 3-pointers four seconds later with 7:19 left in the third frame.

Kulesza finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals, as she and Kristin Williams played all 40 minutes on Saturday. The Minutewomen as a whole forced 16 turnovers from the Rams.

“It just happened, I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Kulesza said of her three steals in 45 seconds. “In past games, like [Leflar] always says, don’t go for steals, sometimes you just got to … I mean it was a really quick 45 seconds, but we made it happen.”

“It’s funny, [Kulesza] has tied the steals record at times this year … I do talk about not going for steals in practice, and not everyone buys into that … if you play good position defense, trust me, they will throw you the basketball,” Leflar said.

VCU had three players in double figures, with Grace Hutson ending as the game’s leading scorer with 16 points in 20 minutes off the bench. Four of her five made shots were 3-pointers, finishing 4-of-8 from 3-point land and 5-of-10 from the floor. The Rams didn’t have a stellar shooting day as a unit, finishing 20-for-51 from the field.

“[Hutson was] our captain last year and our captain this year, and she is a player that we know can shoot it,” VCU head coach Beth O’Boyle said. “I was watching her in warmups, and she was just one shot after the other, and I kept saying ‘hold some, let’s keep some, let’s wait for the game to start,’ … our team did a good job of finding her.”

UMass has just three games left in the regular season, with the first of this final trio of games taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 21 against Loyola Chicago on the road. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game can be viewed on NBCSN.

“The group that played [Saturday], the eight, I was really pleased with their effort, I thought they left it all on the floor,” Leflar said. “That’s all I can ask for … that group did a really nice job practicing and bouncing back in practice on Thursday and Friday … I was proud of them and I told them that.”

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

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