WNIT: UMass closes historic season with win over Ohio

  • Senior Sam Breen set a UMass postseason record with 27 points Monday against Ohio in the WNIT Charlotte Region consolation final at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. UMass rolled to a 95-71 win. COURTESY LAURA WOLFF

  • UMass sophomore guard Sydney Taylor made four 3s and scored 25 points against Ohio in the WNIT Charlotte Region consolation final at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. COURTESY LAURA WOLFF

Staff Writer
Published: 3/22/2021 7:38:02 PM

The end of a college basketball season usually sneaks up on teams. Either their tournament run falls short or a postseason bid goes undelivered.

The UMass women’s basketball team knew Monday’s WNIT Charlotte Region consolation final was it, win or lose.

“It’s rare for you to know when it’s going to be your last game of the season,” UMass senior forward Sam Breen said. “We really wanted to go out with a bang.”

More like the Big Bang. The Minutewomen blasted Ohio 95-71 at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. They set a program record for wins in a postseason with two. UMass coach Tory Verdi notched his 150th win as the leader of the Minutewomen. The 95 points marked a season high and postseason record.

“Any game we play, I want them to represent the University of Massachusetts. This is who we are,” Verdi said. “The more consistent we can be, then it’s gonna help us put this program in a really good position to be successful.”

Breen finished with 27 points to set a program postseason record. She added nine rebounds and three steals. Three other UMass players reached double figures. Sydney Taylor hit four 3s and scored 25 points, which would have tied a UMass postseason high if not for Breen, and added four assists. Angelique Ngalakulondi added 15 points and nine boards, and Makennah White scored 10.

“It makes it difficult on defenses. They can’t focus on one or even two of us,” Breen said. “Everyone on the team is capable of scoring, and that’s what allows us to really open the floor.”

All that came after a slow start. Ohio (15-10) scored the game’s first four points and led for 5 minutes, 28 seconds. Then Ngalakulondi sank a layup with 4:32 left in the quarter to put the Minutewomen (16-8) ahead 12-11. Breen followed with a layup that extended the lead to 3, but Ohio’s Kaitlyn Kroll splashed a 3 to tie the game at 14.

On UMass’ next possession, Taylor made a 3 on the fast break and sparked a 9-0 UMass run. The Minutewomen never looked back.  They pushed the lead to double digits in the second quarter on freshman Stefanie Kulesza’s first career 3 with 3:34 to halftime. She scored a career-high nine points.

The advantage stayed in double digits nearly the entire second half, where UMass led by as many as 26. The Minutewomen were still playing with seven players for the third game in four days and the seventh time in the past two weeks.

“This group of people proved a lot this year and proved a lot of people wrong,” Breen said.

All seven scored, while junior guard Destiney Philoxy distributed nine assists. All seven will be back next season, Verdi said, along with the other four members of Kulesza’s recruiting class.

“We’re relevant and we have built something that is sustainable. This is not a one-hit wonder. We’re here to stay. We have the foundation,” Verdi said. “We are ready to take it to the next level.”

UMass hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 1998. Losing in the Atlantic 10 championship game left the Minutewomen one game short this season. They don’t plan on being left out next year.

“Moving forward this is just a building block of what we know we’re capable of doing,” Breen said. “Going forward we’re just going to want more.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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