UMass basketball: Minutewomen get by Saint Peter’s for season-opening 56-44 victory

UMass’ Lilly Ferguson (4) drives to the basket  against Saint Peter’s during the Minutewomen’s season-opening victory on Monday at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass’ Lilly Ferguson (4) drives to the basket against Saint Peter’s during the Minutewomen’s season-opening victory on Monday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass’ Lilly Taulelei (33) pulls up for a shot against Saint Peter’s during the Minutewomen’s season-opening victory on Monday at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass’ Lilly Taulelei (33) pulls up for a shot against Saint Peter’s during the Minutewomen’s season-opening victory on Monday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer 

Published: 11-06-2023 8:55 PM

AMHERST – The UMass women’s basketball team put away its first win of the season in convincing fashion over Saint Peter’s Monday night, picking up a 56-44 non-conference victory at the Mullins Center. 

Junior Stefanie Kulesza put on a show for the UMass faithful, earning a start and securing her first career double-double. Kulesza finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, with five of those boards and points coming in the first quarter alone. 

It technically wasn’t the first time Kulesza has hit the milestone – she had a pair of double-doubles in exhibition games – but it was the first one in an official game.

“It feels great. I had a double-double in the Brown scrimmage and then the Assumption exhibition, so it's something that I've experienced before. But again, I'm not really about personal stats,” Kulesza said. “I'm just happy we got the (win) and I'll worry about what I do later.”

UMass coach Mike Leflar said prior to tip-off that he was hoping that his team would score by committee this year instead of relying on one or two stars, and that was true for the most part on Monday night. Kristin Williams scored a team-high 19 points, followed by Kulesza’s 15. Bre Bellamy (five points), Lilly Taulelei (six points) and Lilly Ferguson (six points) provided secondary scoring for the Minutewomen.

But despite the victory, the Minutewomen scored significantly fewer points than they did in their 88-80 exhibition win over Assumption, something that puzzled Leflar. 

“There were times I thought some people passed up shots, which I didn’t quite understand, and I turned to the bench and I was like ‘Man, it must be something I’m saying,’” Leflar said. “I want our players to feel really, really comfortable and confident in what they’re doing, and I think they work every single day at a great pace, and they’ve all improved. Especially the last two weeks I can’t say enough about how good practice has been.” 

UMass scored the first bucket of the game, a triple from Kulesza, and didn’t give up the lead for the remainder of the contest. Jermany Mapp picked up a quick two fouls in the opening two and a half minutes that got her yanked for Williams; in Williams’ first possession on the floor, she floated a triple in to give UMass a 5-2 lead.

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After St. Peter’s Jada Williams put up a layup to make it a one-point game, the Minutewomen went on a 8-0 run with two three-pointers from Williams and Tori Hyduke, as well as a layup from Lilly Ferguson, forcing a Peacocks timeout down 13-4 with 5:23 left in the half. 

The visitors pulled back within four points after the timeout, but the Minutewomen escaped the first period up 18-11. 

Scoring slowed down significantly in the second quarter, with both teams putting up just four points each in the first six and a half minutes. Kulesza picked up a bucket in the paint and Williams sank a pair of free throws late; a Saint Peter’s bucket at the buzzer gave UMass a 26-17 lead going into the locker room at halftime. Though the home team had the lead, there was lots to improve upon for the Minutewomen going into the second half. 

“I’ve told them many times, we’re going to make or miss shots, that’s not going to define us. What defines us is how competitive we’re being, how vocal we’re being, and how together we’re being,” Leflar said. “There were plenty of examples in the first half, we were doing things that we hadn’t practiced. We were doing things that were almost out of character for us.”

The Peacocks scored the first bucket of the third quarter, but UMass rode a 6-0 run to jump out to a 32-19 lead. From that moment onward, the Peacocks never cut the deficit to single digits. Both teams played a back and forth game to close out the final frame. 

The Minutewomen will travel to Northeastern for their second game of the season on Thursday at 7 p.m. Fans can watch the game on NESN-Plus. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.