Expectations only going up for UMass women’s basketball 

  • UMass’ Destiney Philoxy, shown here against Harvard earlier this month, and the Minutewomen are 7-1 after an impressive showing at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla. over the weekend. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2021 4:47:36 PM

Pushing a ranked opponent to the brink Sunday night didn’t come as a surprise to members of the UMass women’s basketball team.

The Minutewomen battled No. 13 Iowa State in the championship game of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., ultimately falling 76-71 to settle for tournament runners-up after posting a 2-1 mark on the weekend. They reached the title-game after wins over South Dakota State (81-63) and Kent State (72-64).

It was the type of showing that fans have come to expect from UMass (7-1), which lost for the first time all season after opening with a 7-0 mark. Buoyed by last year’s WNIT appearance, the first postseason berth for the program since 1998, this year’s edition of the Minutewomen entered with loads of returning players and veteran talent, and so far the team has delivered on those increased expectations.

“We didn’t get the outcome that we were looking for tonight, but I’m so proud of our effort and fight,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi wrote on Twitter following Sunday night’s loss. “First non-Power 5 school to make it to the championship game.”

Iowa State’s win didn’t come easily. Despite trailing by as many as 21 points, UMass’ Destiney Philoxy drained a shot from behind the arc to narrow the deficit to 69-68 in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones answered back with a three-pointer and managed to hold on late, remaining unbeaten in the process.

UMass isn't just looking to make some noise, the program has eyes for the NCAA Tournament. Saturday’s semifinal win over Kent State was a good step, as the victory goes down as a Quadrant 1 win that will help bolster their tournament resume. The Golden Flashes are 4-1 and beat UCLA and Penn State in the tournament, with the UMass loss falling in between. The Minutewomen are ranked 32nd by RealTimeRPI, and UMass Twitter fans are calling for the program to be ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll. That won’t happen just yet, but there’s optimism that a number next to their name could be coming sooner than later if the wins keep racking up.

Next up is a home game Wednesday against Fairfield (7 p.m., NESN), followed by another home game Sunday against UMass-Lowell. On paper, those are two games UMass should win, which would set up key games against Boston College (Dec. 8) and Columbia (Dec. 11). A 9-1 UMass team welcoming BC to the Mullins Center would undoubtedly be one of the more highly-anticipated games in the last couple decades.

Atlantic-10 Conference play will also offer some resistance, with the likes of Rhode Island, Fordham, Dayton and VCU all expected to be top 75 teams in the country. UMass lost to VCU in last year’s A-10 title game.

And of course, the program has the star power as well, with vets Philoxy and Sam Breen both earning All-Tournament honors in Florida. Breen was also tabbed as the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week on Monday, the fourth time in her career she’s taken home the honor, after averaging 16.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in four games. 

ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel also showed the Minutewomen some love in her Monday column, anointing Verdi her national coach of the week following the showing in Florida.

“UMass is 7-1, and should be one of the teams that makes the A-10 race interesting this season,” Voepel wrote.

Stay tuned.


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