Season coming together as UMass women’s basketball heads for stretch run

  • UMass forward Makennah White (5) works for a shot against Tennessee center Tamari Key (20) during action on Nov. 10 in Knoxville, Tenn. AP FILE

Staff Writer 
Published: 1/23/2023 6:25:43 PM
Modified: 1/23/2023 6:25:16 PM

It finally seems like the UMass women’s basketball team’s season is coming together on the court, which is a weird sentence to write considering the team has just four losses this season.

A 15-4 record is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering some of the ranked opponents that the Minutewomen have been playing. But what head coach Tory Verdi has been talking about all season isn’t necessarily the results – it’s how UMass has been getting there. Some of the wins the reigning Atlantic 10 Conference champions have gotten this year have been far too close for comfort, and Verdi has made that abundantly clear. 

There’s been a lot of factors that have contributed to those struggles, most notable an avalanche of injuries that, for the most part, the Minutewomen have been able to avoid the last couple of seasons. As a result of that, it’s been difficult for the team to build up chemistry on the floor, especially with a handful of transfers that are adjusting to a new team, and a group of sophomores who have been given more responsibilities this season. But everything seemed to come together in UMass’ most recent 79-60 win against Dayton on Sunday, and the Minutewomen are hoping it sticks.

“I thought we played complete basketball. Coming into this game I felt like we had momentum, I felt like ‘OK, we're turning the corner with injuries and then getting some chemistry and things of that nature,’” Verdi said after the team’s win against Dayton. “I felt like this was an important game to be who we are.”

Getting back to ‘UMass basketball’ has been the team’s objective all year – a complete 40 minutes, out-toughing opponents, holding the edge in rebounds and having everyone understand their role on the floor. Besides Makennah White, the team’s go-to post player off the bench who receives regular minutes, three other players came off the bench in Sunday’s game and saw double-digit minutes: Piath Gabriel (11), who recently came back from an injury, Kristin Williams (10) and Stefanie Kulesza (17). The bench rotation is still very much a work in progress, but Verdi hopes to have it more solidified near the end of conference play and heading into the A-10 tournament. 

Besides the win, UMass had a couple of highlight-reel moments against the Flyers. Most notable was Sydney Taylor, who has been playing consistent and complete basketball all season long. Taylor scored 30 points, just shy of her career-best 32, and sank a career-best 11 field goals and seven 3-pointers. Taylor missed just one shot the entire game, a three-point attempt in the second half. Everything else went in. 

“I'm not surprised by it, because I see it every day in practice. Syd’s gonna take what's given to her and we’re (going to) run things for Syd, but she has the freedom to create for herself and if it's there, she's gonna take advantage of it,” Verdi said. “When you look at what she did here [Sunday], just her want-to and her aggressiveness, I thought she was outstanding here.” 

Taylor wasn’t the only player who had a career day on Sunday – Sam Breen snagged her 1,000th career rebound, a stat that made Verdi do a double take in the postgame press conference when he first heard it. Breen currently has 1,001 career rebounds and is third in the UMass record book; she will almost certainly pass second-place Rashida Timbilla (1,020 rebounds) this season, though she’d need quite a few boards to take over the first-place spot, currently held by Jennifer Butler (1,328). 

“I mean, wow. What do you say about that? It's outstanding,” Verdi said on Breen’s 1,000th board. “I think at this point in time, Sam's putting herself in a position to do some special things.” 

On top of her 1,000th rebound, Breen also casually recorded her 51st career double double with 18 points and 11 boards. It was her 11th double-double of the season, tying her for 10th in the nation. 

UMass will look to extend its four-game winning streak on Thursday when the Minutewomen host VCU at noon at the Mullins Center.


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