UMass women’s basketball notebook: Minutewomen shake off slow starts

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff writer

Published: 03-03-2023 8:51 PM

It seemed like the UMass women’s basketball team had managed to move past shaky starts that had plagued them off and on over the years.

The top-seeded Minutewomen have struggled with a couple of things over the years – namely slow starts and playing down to the level of their opponent. They did both during Friday’s Atlantic 10 Conference quarterfinal game against No. 9 George Mason, but their skill level and late surge were enough to push them into the semis, where they’ll face No. 5 Richmond on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Luckily for them, the Spiders have also struggled with slow starts during their first two tournament games. They’ve dealt with it much the same way that UMass has – patiently waiting things out and finding other ways to score, or getting stops to buy themselves time. The Minutewomen found success with their zone defense, staying close to George Mason while their offense found its footing.

“We utilized our zone, I was really pleased with that. I thought we did a nice job of rotating within it, and it changed the moment on the game,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “I’m glad that we prepared to utilize that at some point in time. (We were) just gonna throw it out there to see if it would stick. What we take from this is if you want to win a championship, you got to play defensive and rebound.”

Neither team wants a sluggish start in the semis, but the Minutewomen will have an edge over Richmond – it will be just their second game of the tournament, while Richmond will be playing their third game in three days. Fresher legs could give the Minutewomen… well, a leg up, especially early in the contest.

An eye for an eye

In the Minutewomen’s final regular season game against George Washington, Sydney Taylor got hit near her eye in the fourth quarter and sat out for the remainder of the game, eventually working her way back to the bench with a towel held up over her right eye. When she came out to do post game media after the team’s quarterfinal win on Friday, you could see the severity of it — nearly a week later, there was still a clear bruise ringing her right eye.

“It’s not the best right now, but I’m working through it. Took a couple of days off just to try to get the swelling down a little bit. I’ve been icing it ice kind of nonstop,” Taylor said. “But I’m not one to make excuses, I’ve just got to fight through it.”

It took Taylor awhile to find her rhythm against George Mason. She missed the first five shots she took before sinking a pair of back-to-back jumpers in the second, but looked strong in the fourth quarter as the game was winding to a close. She found ways to contribute beyond just the scoreboard, but Verdi hopes that the confidence she can take away from this game will benefit her against Richmond on Saturday.

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“I thought she was great. She took a hit in our last game and she’s been off and just getting through that adversity,” Verdi said. “I thought she had a really good practice the last few days and it’s not easy to come back from something like that. But she’s tough and I think getting this game underneath her belt right now will help her for future games. So I expect her to be a little bit more confident here moving forward.”

New look Richmond

The last time UMass played Richmond, the game came down to the wire. The Spiders jumped out to an early lead and the Minutewomen had to play catchup, much like George Mason did in Friday’s quarterfinal.

UMass rallied late, outscoring Richmond by 10 points in the second half to secure the win. But the Spiders learned a lot from that game, and know more of what to expect from the Minutewomen the second time around.

“I think that with Fordham, we learned a lot from the first time we played them. We learned how to handle the press, we knew that we needed to rebound, we needed to finish,” Richmond’s Addie Budnik said. “With UMass, we kind of fell behind with the rebounding so we know that we have to be big on the boards [Saturday], and that will be huge.”

This won’t be the same Richmond team that UMass played back in February. Besides playing in the A-10 Tournament where the stakes are higher, the Spiders are riding high. Head coach Aaron Roussell said that they’ve become a new team since a loss to Fordham in late January. After that game, the Spiders bested St. Joseph’s in a 94-90 OT win and pulled within four points of toppling the Minutewomen. Richmond has won seven of its last eight games, falling just once to Duquesne.

“I think we came out, played really well against UMass last time from the beginning of the game on. They’re a really, really good team and they found some weaknesses for us. But I think our kids are resilient and just the energy that we’ve seen from them today, and you guys are seeing these last two games,” Roussell said. “I think really since the last time we played Fordham five, six weeks ago, we’ve been a different team. Our kids are jacked, man.”

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