Differently-looking Rhode Island team comes to town to face UMass women’s basketball

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 01-03-2023 6:45 PM

While not much changed for the UMass women’s basketball team from last season to this year, the same can’t be said for the rest of the teams in the Atlantic-10 Conference.

The A-10 landscape looks much different today than it did a year ago. Between transfers and coaching changes, along with the addition of a new team in Loyola Chicago, there’s plenty of room for movement in the league’s standings.

One of the teams that was hit hardest was Rhode Island. It’s been a long fall from grace for the Rams, which were the only team to beat the Minutewomen twice last year. Four of their top five scorers from last year’s team graduated however, and the team returned just one starter in Dolly Cairns.

UMass will get a chance to get a win against the Rams on Wednesday evening. The Minutewomen will open a doubleheader with the men’s team at 5 p.m. before the Minutemen face Saint Louis at 7:30 p.m.

“I expect us to come out with a great sense of urgency, but they are different from a year ago, totally different,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said of URI. “From having an unbelievable interior game with (Emmanuelle) Tahane, someone who I thought was probably one of the best players in the A-10, I thought they had speed and athleticism, I thought they had shooting, I thought that they had a complete roster.”

With a 10-3 record, the Rams have been racking up wins this year, but the team’s strength of schedule has left something to be desired. They’ll have their hands much fuller with the Minutewomen on Wednesday, especially with top player Tenin Magassa out with a shoulder injury.

UMass is nearly back to full health – its lone injured player, Piath Gabriel, is expected to dress Wednesday. She rejoined practice on Tuesday and should be close to 100 percent in the latter half of the week.

As the Minutewomen prepare for their second conference game, Verdi is looking to his bench to make a statement. The usual stars for UMass – Destiney Philoxy, Sydney Taylor, Ber’Nyah Mayo, Sam Breen, Angelique Ngalakulondi and first off the bench post player Makennah White – have settled into their familiar roles. While there are always things to tweak and adjust, for the most part that core six has been rock solid for the Minutewomen.

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Besides White, though, the rest of the bench is still working on finding its role. It’s not for lack of options – the Minutewomen have a variety of strong players to go to, including sophomores Laila Fair, Alexzeya Brooks, Stefanie Kulesza and Kristin Williams, among others. Injuries have hindered some of their progress, but Verdi is still looking for more, particularly from his guards in Brooks, Kulesza and Williams. 

“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Verdi said when asked about his bench depth. “I'd love to be able to get them in and be able to rotate our three (guard) starters out because they needed a breather.”

Brooks has established herself as a go-to player for Verdi, and Williams, Kulesza and Fair have all shown flashes of strong play, if not consistently. Kulesza played well in the team’s A-10 opener against St. Bonaventure, playing 10 minutes and grabbing a board and an assist while also showcasing some impressive defensive play. If all four can improve their consistency, it would give the Minutewomen significantly more options and also give their starters a breather, something that could pay dividends down the road.

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