A10 tournament: UMass women’s basketball ousts Saint Louis to reach first final since 1998

  • Destiney Philoxy scored 28 points, as the UMass women's basketball team defeated Saint Louis on Saturday in the Atlantic 10 semifinals. The Minutewomen advanced to the conference championship game for the first time since 1998. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2021 7:20:45 PM

History isn’t finished with the UMass women’s basketball team yet.

Playing in their first Atlantic 10 tournament semifinal since 2002, the seventh-seeded Minutewomen defeated No. 3 Saint Louis 90-81 on Saturday at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va., advancing to the conference championship game for the first time since 1998.

They’re just the second No. 7 seed to reach the title game. No team seeded lower than fifth has ever won the A-10 title, and the NCAA Tournament berth that accompanies it.

“So be it. I’m super excited about where we are,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “I didn’t feel we were a seven seed this year.”

UMass will face No. 5 VCU on their home floor at noon Sunday on ESPNU for a spot in the Big Dance. The teams split their two regular season meetings. The Minutewomen prevailed for the first time ever at the Siegel Center, and the Rams won when the teams closed the regular season on a neutral floor at Rhode Island.

“We’re ready to go to war. It’s time for revenge,” UMass junior guard Destiney Philoxy said. “We’ll see who wins (Sunday). I do believe it’s going to be us. Tune in.”

Philoxy and fellow co-captain senior Sam Breen led the way. They scored 28 points apiece playing 39 and 40 minutes, respectively. Philoxy added two assists and two rebounds shooting 64.7 percent from the floor.

Breen didn’t leave the floor for the third consecutive game, playing 40 minutes for the second time in less than 24 hours. She added 10 rebounds for her 15th double-double.

“We couldn’t do anything with them. They are playing at a very high level,” Saint Louis coach Lisa Stone said. “You look at a very short bench, they’re on a mission.”

UMass has only had two bench players available for the entire tournament. They’ve played three games in three days with a fourth in four on deck Sunday.

“The great players find a way to get through that all. A lot of players hit the wall, and when it gets hard, it’s easy to stop,” Verdi said. “Our players not only hit the wall but they’re gong through the wall and they’re continuing on. And that’s what’s so special about them.”

The Minutewomen shredded Saint Louis’ top-rated field goal defense. They made 55.2 percent of their shots, their second-best total of the season, by living in the paint. UMass outscored the Billikens 52-40 in the paint and added 16 fast break points.

“Taking time and executing our play sets was extremely important today,” Breen said. “(Saturday) is the best we’ve executed our sets.”

Saint Louis built a four-point lead early in the second quarter, but UMass kept the Billikens reined in. Freshman Makennah White tied the game at 23 with a layup with 7 minutes, 29 seconds to halftime, then Breen put UMass ahead for good 42 seconds later.

That advantage ballooned to as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter, when UMass down shifted its focus on managing the clock. The Minutewomen posted a season high in points (90).

“Time was on our side, and we used that to our advantage,” Breen said.

There will be a quick turnaround for UMass before the final. The Minutewomen tipped Saturday at 4 p.m. and the game ended at 6 p.m. That’s just 18 hours to recover and prepare for the Rams. They’re not worried about being tired, however.

“We’ve done this the whole year playing for each other and not letting fatigue or whatever hit us,” Breen said. “The adrenaline is keeping us going.”

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


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