UMass basketball: Minutewomen’s win over Rhode Island a confidence booster


Staff Writer 

Published: 02-17-2023 8:44 PM

Thursday’s UMass game at Rhode Island was a must-win game, in more ways than one. 

The Minutewomen were still looking for the No. 1 spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and a win against Rhode Island would bring them one stop closer. But more than that, UMass needed a win against the Rams to clear their minds ahead of the tourney. 

Rhode Island was the one A-10 team that UMass couldn’t solve, despite having the best team in the A-10 and one of the best teams in the country. The last time UMass toppled Rhode Island was in December of 2020, and that, more than anything, was a thorn in the Minutewomen’s side. 

It’s what made it so important to be in Rhode Island for a seemingly innocuous regular season game on an ordinary Thursday night. While it ended up being a lopsided affair for the Minutewomen, these two teams could very well see themselves go head-to-head one more time this year for a title. Getting a win to even the score was necessary for the Minutewomen’s confidence, especially this close to March. 

“I told my team, they’re ready for this moment. We played the non-conference schedule that we played for this reason. I thought it prepared us. We’ve been there before, and I thought it was just great to see us go out there and have that type of energy,” Verdi said on his team’s Rhode Island win.

It hasn’t been an easy road – all season, when the team has had a lackluster game, or injuries have forced different combinations on the floor, Verdi has preached patience. We don’t need to be playing our best basketball now, he said in November, December, January. We’re saving that for the end of the season. 

And right on cue, the team is coming together better than UMass fans could have dreamed. 

“We’re playing our best basketball now. You go back to December and January, early January, our chemistry wasn’t there,” Verdi said. “I feel like we’re hitting all cylinders right now.”

Angelique’s angels 

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Angelique Ngalakulondi was one of many standouts for the Minutewomen on Thursday, putting up 17 points and falling just two boards short of a double-double with eight boards. The starting forward has had ups and downs this season, and was called out specifically by Verdi earlier this year to improve her game play. Just like the rest of her team, she’s peaking at the right moment; against Rhode Island, she owned the paint, going toe-to-toe with Rhode Island’s defense and more often than not coming out the victor. 

But while Ngalakulondi deserves a lot of credit for her impressive performance on Thursday, she also owes thanks to a couple of her teammates. 

“It’s great timing, and you can bet that I’m gonna tell her that she needs to play like this every single time we take the floor. You look at how she scored –  I think that our guards did a great job of attacking the paint, drawing their defense and then dropping off passes,” Verdi said. “So there’s a lot of credit – Syd and Destiney, she needs to take those guys out to dinner and thank those guys, because they got her the ball.” 

Destiney with a side of Mayo

Beside’s Ngalakulondi’s big game, two players who quietly did the lion share’s of the work on Thursday night were Destiney Philoxy and Ber’Nyah Mayo. 

One of the changes UMass made going into their second contest with Rhode Island was putting more pressure on the Rams’ point guards. That task largely fell to guards Mayo and Philoxy, who were sprinting around the court all night long.  

“They were huge today. We (had them) pressure their point guards, hounding I guess you could say, and I know that took a lot out of them,” Taylor said. “They were exhausted, and they kept going (subbing) in and out, but both of them did fantastic.” 

Fighting for No. 1 

To a point, UMass and Rhode Island both control their destinies when it comes to the battle for the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament, but if both teams win out, it will come down to a complicated tiebreaker system. 

If both teams win their remaining games, UMass and Rhode Island would have identical conference records. The next tie-breaker would be head-to-head games; both teams have one win against the other. After that, the next tie-breaker is the better record against the ‘best common opponent’ – whatever A-10 team finishes in third place in the standings. 

If that’s the case, UMass fans should watch Fordham and St. Joseph’s games very carefully. UMass will win a tiebreaker scenario if Fordham finishes third in the conference – UMass has won both of its games against Fordham, and Rhode Island will play them just once. But if Rhode Island bests St. Joseph’s on Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN+), then the Rams would win the tiebreaker if St. Joe’s finishes in third overall, since Rhode Island would be 2-0 against St. Joe’s and UMass bested them just once. 

A lot will become clearer after Sunday’s Rhode Island game against St. Joseph’s. The abbreviated version: if you’re a UMass fan, become a St. Joseph’s fan for just one day this Sunday.