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UMass women’s basketball team starts fresh Saturday with Kent State

University of Massachusetts women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley said there’s new energy around her team as it tries to put last year’s 8-21 mark behind them.

The Minutewomen open the season Saturday at 2 p.m. against Kent State at the Mullins Center.

Senior center Jasmine Watson returns after leading the team in scoring (12.3 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). Watson, a South Bend, Ind., native will get a homecoming game on Nov. 18 when UMass travels to No. 7 Notre Dame. She enters the season needing 20 points to reach 1,000 for her career and is on pace to leave UMass as one of its top 10 all-time scorers and rebounders. But Watson will have a different supporting cast.

UMass, which graduated its next three leading scorers, adds five freshmen and Australia native Kiara Bomben, who began he college career at Florida Gulf Coast.

“They’re so positive. They bring such a great attitude to the program,” Dawley said. “They work really hard. They want really badly to be good. That gives a burst of energy and new life into our returners.”

Freshman power forward Rashida Timbila started UMass’ two scrimmages and will likely join Watson inside to open the game Saturday. Aisha Rodney, who is battling back from an early preseason ankle sprain, Millie Niggiling and Kim Pierre-Louis will also see time inside.

Senior Dee Montgomery will open as the team’s starting point guard. Carolann Cloutier, last year’s starter, suffered a season-ending knee injury late last season and has just been cleared to practice.

“She’s now trying to get into game shape,” Dawley said. “Her minutes will rise as her comfort level rises. Rehabbing an ACL is a total individual kind of comeback. There’s a lot of physical stuff involved, but there’s more mental than physical and people are ready when they’re ready. I don’t think we can put a timeline on it.”

Freshman Nola Henry will be in the mix at point guard as well.

Sophomore Emily “Tex” Mital will start at shooting guard, but will be pushed by freshman Adriana Jordan.

Bomben, who was voted one of the team’s captains despite being just a sophomore, will start at small forward. Jasmine Harris will back her up.

“Somewhere down the road we’re looking at Rashida playing some three as well,” Dawley said. “Rashida is very versatile. In the grand scheme of things, that would be perfect to have an athlete like her at 6-1 playing at the three. I think she has star quality and I think we’ll see that as her comfort level comes up.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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