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UMass women’s basketball avoids another late-game collapse in win over George Washington

Avoiding what could have been another such nightmare scenario in the Minutewomen’s Atlantic 10 opener at the Mullins Center on Saturday was a relief for coach Sharon Dawley. UMass held on to defeat George Washington 62-58.

“Obviously, we’re really excited that we are 1-0” in the conference, Dawley said. “We put in a good week of practice, and our attitude is that it’s a new season (and) this is a new start for us.”

The win snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Minutewomen (3-13, 1-0 A-10). Dawley said with the calendar flipped to 2013 and the long skid behind them, her players should start to loosen up and settle into a rhythm.

“I think everyone is playing, probably, their best basketball right now,” she said. “I think it’s a matter of us clicking as a team. I think we’re starting to do that.”

The outlook for UMass might not be so rosy if the Colonials (6-9, 0-1 Atlantic 10) had a few extra minutes to complete their late comeback attempt. With the Minutewomen nursing a 55-40 lead with just over five minutes remaining in regulation, George Washington went small with its lineup and launched a furious offensive attack that managed to trim the deficit to 59-56 with 39 seconds left.

Dawley, however, remained confident that her players would not fall victim to another end-of-game collapse.

“Most teams would have put their head down and thrown in the towel, but these girls don’t, they never would,” she said. “There was confidence, but it was reminding (the players) we can’t think, ‘Here it goes again.’ ”

UMass freshman Nola Henry banked in a runner in the lane with 13 seconds left to put the game out of reach.

The Minutewomen were led by Carolann Cloutier (13 points, four assists) and Aisha Rodney (10 points, five rebounds), both of whom are rounding back into form after battling injuries.

Their play helped UMass put together a pair of scoring runs, one just before halftime to take a 28-21 lead into the break, and another to stretch the Minutewoman lead to 15 points late in the game.

“Aisha and Carolann are big keys right now,” Dawley said. They’re “emerging and playing their best basketball. I think (Aisha’s) confidence is back, and I think she showed that with knocking down some shots.”

Both players agreed it was exciting to get back up to speed.

“In practice I’ve been shooting the ball well, so my confidence is coming from there,” Cloutier said. “And just my speed and being able to do what I used to do at both ends.”

Rodney added, “It’s nice to play (well) again.”

Emily Mital (11 points) and Jasmine Watson (10) also scored in double-digits for the Minutewomen, who travel to Fordham at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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