VCU ends UMass women’s basketball’s incredible run in A10 Championship

  • From left, UMass’ Destiney Philoxy, Sam Breen and Angelique Ngalakulondi and the Minutewomen fell 81-69 to VCU in the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball championship game Sunday at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • UMass sophomore Angelique Ngalakulondi kept UMass in the game early with 17 points and seven rebounds in the first half Sunday against VCU in the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball championship game at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. The Minutewomen fell to the Rams, 81-69, in what was the program’s first title game appearance since 1998. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

  • VCU celebrated its first ever Atlantic 10 women’s basketball championship after beating UMass 81-69 at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. BRIAN MCWALTERS/ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2021 3:52:59 PM

The end of the UMass women’s basketball team’s Atlantic 10 Championship run is just the beginning for the Minutewomen.

VCU claimed the conference championship and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009 with an 81-69 victory at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va., on Sunday. The fifth-seeded Rams tied the mark for the lowest seed to ever claim the title.

UMass, the No. 7 seed, was chasing its own history. The Minutewomen were just the second No. 7 seed to ever make the final. They were seeking their first-ever Atlantic 10 championship and first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998.

“There’s nothing to hang our heads over,” senior forward Sam Breen said. “We played our hearts out.”

Breen didn’t check out for the fourth consecutive game. She was one of two Minutewomen, along with freshman guard Ber’Nyah Mayo, that played all 40 minutes as UMass contested its fourth game in four days with just two bench players.

“I knew they were tough, but this is at another level,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “To have the energy and the want to every single day, they’re tough.”

VCU put the Minutewomen in a tough position early. The Rams hit five of their first six 3s and four in a row to build a 10-point lead 7½ minutes in.

“They’re known to penetrate and attack the rim, our goal was to contain them and not allow high percentage shots,” Verdi said. “They made shots, you have to give them credit.”

UMass sophomore Angelique Ngalakulondi checked in with 5:18 remaining in the quarter and kept the Minutewomen in striking distance for the rest of the first half. She accumulated 19 points and seven rebounds – five on the offensive glass – before halftime, both of which would have set career highs. Ngalakulondi finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.

“She had a huge impact to this game. We needed it so much,” UMass sophomore Sydney Taylor said of Ngalakulondi. “I’m so proud of her, she worked so hard.”

Taylor cut VCU’s lead to four with 1:52 left to halftime after sinking her first 3-pointer, and UMass had a chance to make it a one-possession game at the buzzer.

Junior guard Destiney Philoxy took a rebound coast to coast with five seconds left and reached the rim. She double clutched a layup before dropping it through the hoop with a scoop as the buzzer sounded. That would have made it 42-39 VCU at the half, but referees reviewed the basket and waived it off.

The Rams scored five of the first seven points in the third quarter and restored the lead to eight points in a minute. But UMass kept pushing. The Minutewomen reeled VCU back in, and Taylor cut the lead to one possession with another 3 with 7:07 left in the third quarter. She finished with 23 points and four rebounds.

UMass had a chance to tie the game with 3:23 left in the quarter, but Taylor missed a layup. VCU grabbed two offensive rebounds on its next possession and drew a foul. The Rams’ advantage stretched to five with 23 seconds remaining, the Mayo splashed a 3 at the buzzer to make it a two-point game to start the fourth. It was the third consecutive game UMass scored to end the third quarter.

Taylor tied it at 55 with 8:49 remaining, the Sam Breen made the second of two free throws 41 seconds later to put UMass ahead 56-55, its first lead since 4-3 in the opening three minutes.

VCU’s Janika Wallace took it right back with a 3, and Taylor responded with her own triple to give UMass a 59-58 advantage with 7:32 left.

The Rams unleashed an 8-0 run capped by a Griffith Wallace 3-pointer off an offensive rebound.

UMass cut that seven-point lead eventually to 3 when Taylor sank a circus layup where she couldn’t even see the rim with 4:16 remaining to make it 66-63.

VCU outscored the Minutewomen 15-6 over the rest of the game to clinch the crown however. The loss ended UMass’ four-game winning streak but may not have ended its season. A WNIT berth is a possibility after the Minutewomen’s run. They’ll find out Monday if they’re a postseason team.

“There’s no question in my mind we deserve the opportunity to play in the postseason,” Verdi said.

Even if that call doesn’t come, UMass showed what the team picked seventh in the conference preseason poll and the No. 7 seed could do with its seven players, all of whom can return next year. Three Minutewomen were named to the all-tournament team: Breen, Philoxy and Taylor.

“They have to keep an eye on UMass,” Breen said. “No one can count us out.”

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


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