UMass women’s basketball getting fresh start in return from pause

  • Destiney Philoxy and the UMass women's basketball team are playing their first game since Jan. 31 when they take the floor against VCU in Rhode Island on Friday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2021 6:25:43 PM

The athletic department’s 14-day pause gave the UMass women’s basketball team a fresh start.

Before the school shut down all athletic activities Feb. 7, the Minutewomen had lost three games in a row. The interruption cost UMass (10-5, 6-4 Atlantic 10) four games, as they last played Jan. 31 — a 26-day gap between contests.

“It’s almost like you’re starting and playing that first game of the season all over again. I’m intrigued to see how tough we really are, and I think we have a lot to prove,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “The challenge is to show everyone look at the circumstances we had to go through and we’re gonna come out of this thing and we’re gonna continue to battle and show everyone regardless of this situation we can not skip a beat and continue to do something special.”

UMass dropped to seventh in the A-10 standings following the losing streak and the pause with a .600 winning percentage. The Minutewomen will face two of the three teams in front of them over the next three days. They play VCU at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Richmond at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Both games were originally scheduled to be played at the Mullins Center, but due to UMass’ rule prohibiting home games until mid-March, they will now take place at Rhode Island’s Ryan Center as the second game of two doubleheaders. The Rams and Spiders are travel partners and will be facing Rhode Island the day they don’t play UMass.

“The only thing that’s going to change is the location,” UMass junior guard Destiney Philoxy said. “We’re going to stay who we are, be true to ourselves and play the best we can.”

At their best, the Minutewomen were the conference’s dominant offensive force. They still lead the A-10 in points per game (69.1), shooting percentage (43.4) and assists per game (15.53). They’ll need to rediscover that form quickly with less than a week of practice before the game against VCU.

Thankfully it’s not a new opponent. UMass took down the Rams on Jan. 15, its first-ever win at VCU.

“We went there and were extremely active defensively,” Verdi said. “We created that, and that’s the same thing we’ve got to do. Getting 50-50 balls, getting deflections and steals and turning them into points.”

The Rams have won their past two games and sit sixth in the A-10 standings. They boast the second-best turnover margin in the league (3.1). Three VCU players average double figures: Taya Robinson (13.3 points per game), Tera Reed (12.1) and Sarah Te-Biasu (10.8).

UMass hasn’t seen Richmond yet. The teams were supposed to play in mid-January, but the Spiders paused activities due to COVID-19 protocols. Richmond leads the A-10 with 5.33 blocks per game.

The weekend’s games will go a long way toward determining the conference’s final seeds since Richmond, Rhode Island and VCU are all 9-4 in conference play.

The two games in Rhode Island are UMass’ last chances to play before the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but it won’t be a quick transition. Earlier this month the league moved the women’s tournament back a week, which means the Minutewomen will wait at least 11 days between their final regular season game and conference tournament opener.

“I’d want to have a little bit more runway,” Verdi said. “I want to play more games to get that continuity, that comfort, all that you’d expect to have going into the conference tournament.”

Still, the Minutewomen appreciate the opportunity to be playing again rather than being stuck in their dorms or apartments.

“We need to be resilient and take advantage of the opportunity to play. I know what it was like not playing, and we need to take all that and bottle it up and use it to our advantage,” Verdi said. “It’s going to be like first game jitters all over again.”

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