Sam Breen’s explosive 1st quarter propels UMass women’s basketball back to A-10 championship game

  • Sam Breen, shown last season, scored a season-high 28 points in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday against Saint Joseph’s. UMass will play Dayton for the conference title at 2 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. COURTESY JAY CRAIN

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2022 4:15:01 PM

Sam Breen’s dominant fourth quarter against Fordham carried the UMass women’s basketball team into Saturday’s semifinal round.

The reigning Atlantic 1o Player of the Year didn’t wait as long to take over against Saint Joseph’s. She hit her first basket 29 seconds in and went 8-for-8 in the first quarter, scoring 18 of her season-high 28 points in the opening frame to help power the No. 3 seeded Minutewomen to a 76-58 victory over No. 7 Saint Joseph’s to reach their second consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference championship game.

“If I’m not scoring, I’m going to feed the ball to Sam every time,” UMass guard Sydney Taylor said. “And she was on fire. Why not?”

They’ll face the top seed, Dayton, at 2 p.m. Sunday for the title on ESPN2. UMass lost its only regular season matchup against the Flyers in January. The winner receives the A-10’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Saint Joe’s established an early 4-3 lead after Laila Fair stuck in a second-chance layup off an offensive board 1 minute, 29 seconds in. Then it was all Breen for the next 3:24. She scored four baskets in a row to embark on a personal 9-0 run. It was part of a 13-2 spurt that put the Minutewomen up for good.

Breen didn’t miss until 36 seconds into the second quarter when her first 3-point attempt of the second stanza went wayward. She added nine rebounds and four steals, making 13-of-19 field goals.

“I was able to get more touches in the first half, making the right reads. My teammates were finding me,” Breen said. “The second half it turned to Sydney.”

Saint Joe’s got as close as five after a Fair free throw 52 seconds into the second, but UMass (25-6) ripped off four points in a row to give itself more breathing room.  The lead hit double digits for the first time when sophomore guard Ber’Nyah Mayo drained a 3 with 4 minutes to halftime.

The Minutewomen led by at least 10 points for the entire second half. Their advantage stretched as far as 22 with 54 seconds remaining.

While Breen cooled off after her sweltering start, Taylor picked up the baton in the second half. She poured in all 20 of her points after halftime, making three 3s.

UMass shot 55.2 percent from the field. The Minutewomen pounded the Hawks on the glass, out rebounding them 36-26. They had 44 points in the paint and 16 assists. Point guard Destiney Philoxy contributed five assists and seven points.

Makennah White joined Breen and Taylor in double figures with 10 points.

The victory was UMass coach Tory Verdi’s 100th with the Minutewomen.

“Gonna try to get win 101 (Sunday),” Breen said.

It will take beating Dayton, the two-time defending regular season conference champions who won the tournament title in 2020, for the first time since 2016.

UMass is playing in its second consecutive conference championship game – just its third ever.

“That feeling stuck with us a lot last year,” Taylor said. “Months and months, I’ve been thinking about it since it happened.”

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