Minutewomen rally past UMass-Lowell to move to 9-1

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2021 5:59:20 PM

AMHERST – Over the course of a season for every team, there will be highs and there will be lows. The measure of a team is how they respond to the inevitable adversity that crosses their path. 

The UMass women’s basketball team proved Sunday afternoon that it could dig deep, even though things got a little ugly at times.

The Minutewomen walked away with a gritty 58-53 win against a UMass Lowell team that was hungry to take down one of the rising stars in women’s basketball – and the River Hawks very nearly accomplished that.

“We got outworked, there was no question about that. We get outworked for 35 minutes here today by Lowell,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said. “I told our team, to [Lowell] this is like their Super Bowl. We have a bull's eye in our back and we’ve got to show up. You can't take anybody lightly, regardless of who you're playing. Hopefully we chalk this up as a learning experience and move on.”

Sam Breen picked up her seventh double-double of the season and carried the team through the first half, finishing with a season-high 26 points along with 13 boards. She was the lone bright spot on the Minutewomen’s offense through the first three quarters, showing the same kind of tenacity and consistency she’s been playing with all season long.

In the first half of the contest, the offense went mostly through Breen. She finished with 19 of the team’s 33 points going into halftime. Excluding Breen, the Minutewomen (9-1) went a woeful 4-for-22 on the floor, knocking down a couple of triples to soften the blow of an offense that just couldn't find the basket. 

The Minutewomen struggled handling the Lowell duo of Denise Solis and Kharis Idom, who combined for 34 of the River Hawks’ 53 total points. Despite UMass’s offensive struggles, it took until the third quarter for the River Hawks to take the lead. They dragged it out to a nine-point advantage at one point before the Minutewomen started reeling them back in.

Playing with this kind of a target on its back is a bit of a new experience for UMass, but while it isn’t always easy, it doesn’t change the team's ultimate goal. In order to win an Atlantic-10 title, they’ll need contributions from their entire lineup.

“I'm gonna say it's different for us,” Verdi said. “But regardless, our goal is to win the championship. And I've been preaching, you’ve got to be consistent... it doesn't matter (who you’re playing). Good teams show up… we've shown that we can play with the best teams in the country, but then there's other games where we looked like we don't belong, you know, and that's where we need to grow, and we need everyone. We need everyone's best each and every single night.”

And though it wasn't pretty, the Minutewomen proved that when everybody does show up, this is a team that can come from behind and gut out a win.

Things started going right for the Minutewomen in the fourth quarter, starting with an Angelique Ngalakulondi offensive rebound that turned into a layup with six and a half minutes left, a move she repeated two minutes later to give UMass the shot in the arm it needed. Those two field goals, combined with Ngalakulondi’s team-leading six offensive rebounds, started the comeback UMass needed after heading into the fourth quarter down 44-40.

“I obviously wasn't doing much in the beginning, but I was just trying hard to just do something, like anything, even if it was small,” Ngalakulondi said of her play. “It took me a while to get going, but everyone else was contributing as much as they could.” 

And those contributions couldn’t have come at a better time. Breen picked up another layup in between Ngalakulondi's offensive rebounds, Sydney Taylor finally had a 3-pointer go in that brought the bench and the crowd to their feet, and Ber’Nyah Mayo hit a timely layup to give the home team a six-point lead with 54 seconds to go. Their defensive press also pressured Lowell enough to force a 10-second violation, their second of the game.

“I think everyone really owns their role, whatever that may be,” Breen said. “And I think that shows today, even if you're not scoring, rebounding... getting stops, our press was pretty good. Even if it doesn't always contribute to points, always getting those stops is a big deal.”

Regardless of how it looked, Verdi was proud of his team's character when it came up against a Lowell team that didn't give up.

“When you face adversity, my message to them is ‘adversity builds character,’" said Verdi. “When you face it… you can't quit, you can't stop. It was hard today, you know, but I was so proud of our fight down the stretch, to get the win.”

The Minutewomen will have a few days of rest before seeking their 10th win of the season against Boston College at the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night.


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