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UMass women fall to Charlotte 79-60

AMHERST — Playing its second game in as many nights and against one of the Atlantic 10 conference’s most talented teams, it felt as if the University of Massachusetts women’s basketball team was ready to let Wednesday’s game against Charlotte slip away into a total blowout.

And though the Minutewomen fell to the 49ers 79-60 for its season-high 10th straight loss, the second-half surge in which UMass outscored Charlotte by five points left UMass coach Sharon Dawley and her players feeling more optimistic than discouraged.

“We liked what we saw in spurts tonight,” Dawley said. “We actually scored more in the second half than we did (in the entire game) against URI (Tuesday), so we were obviously more pleased with the offensive effort today.”

Dawley was especially pleased with where the second-half production came from. “I feel like there’s a lot of hope out of this loss (compared to) other losses we’ve experienced because we saw a lot of youth doing great things,” she said.

One of those younger players who got her chance to contribute Wednesday was freshman walk-on and Amherst native Victoria Stewart. Stewart, who starred at Amherst Regional, made a free throw late in the game to score her first collegiate point for the Minutewomen (3-23, 1-10 A-10). She also pulled down a rebound in two minutes off the bench.

“I was excited,” she said. “But I was more excited that my team was really excited. They were just like, jumping off the bench. It just shows, I guess, how much they love me. I liked it.”

Added Dawley, “Vic is our spark plug. She’s an example that we need to work hard every second of every day and people keep getting better if we do that. And she’s gotten better every day this year.”

Seeing Stewart’s hard work pay off and be so warmly welcomed by her teammates was a positive reassurance of those efforts.

“It’s great that Vic’s local,” Dawley said. “You know, that’s something that we obviously wanna do, and we want this to become the community’s team. But more important than that, when she scored a free throw and everyone went crazy for her, it actually gives me goosebumps because everyone is excited and respecting someone’s work and someone’s great attitude.

“When someone gets rewarded for being a great kid and being a great worker, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Down 24 points to Charlotte (21-4, 10-1 A-10) at the half and showing no signs of life, it was the enthusiasm of Stewart and her benchmates that helped to spur the Minutewomen out of the break as a hungry, changed team. Playing against largely the same 49er starting five it struggled against in the first half, UMass outscored its opponent 43-38 in the final 20 minutes of play.

Behind the energized play of Kim Pierre-Louis and Rashida Timbilla, who scored all of her 11 points in the second half, the team fed off the momentum swing.

“I thought Kim did a remarkable job playing against these elite post players, coming up with 11 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes,” Dawley said. “Pretty impressive.”

Jasmine Watson scored a team-high 14 points and recorded six blocks in 28 minutes for the Minutewomen, who next play host to Duquesne on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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