UMass women earn win over VCU


Staff writer 

Published: 01-26-2023 9:26 PM

AMHERST – With the Mullins Center filled to bursting with screaming schoolchildren on Field Trip Day, the UMass women’s basketball team had a mixed bag of a game against VCU on Thursday afternoon. 

The basketball itself was good, with the Minutewomen galloping out to a 22-8 start after the first quarter and closing out the rest of the game for a 83-57 victory. Sam Breen was two assists shy of another triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight helpers, and Sydney Taylor threw up 21 points. 

“We got off to a great, great start. Having that type environment, I know that our players were really excited to play today. They looked like they were shot out of a cannon,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said. “We were flying down the floor, and we knew that we could beat them down the floor, and I just thought that we just had an unbelievable sense of urgency.”

But despite the win, UMass lost Destiney Philoxy a minute into the fourth quarter. The guard went down with a leg injury, needed to be helped off the court and putting no weight on her right leg. After getting checked out, she rejoined the team on the bench for the remainder of the game, using crutches to get around.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long Philoxy will be out, but any length of time would hurt – the senior guard has the most experience at the position, and UMass doesn’t have as much depth with their guards as they would like. With Verdi as their coach, the Minutewomen usually run a tighter rotation; up until the final five minutes of the game, Verdi ran a seven-player rotation with his five starters and Makennah White and Stefanie Kulesza off the bench. Losing one player, especially a starter like Philoxy, would shorten an already short bench.

“It’s gonna change, and it all depends,” Verdi said on using his bench players. “With the timeouts that we had, I was looking at our starters and they felt that they were good, we had momentum, and I wanted to close this thing out. I didn't want to give VCU any confidence. And I just felt at that point in time. I wanted to continue with the seven that I was playing.” 

The Rams couldn’t get anything to fall in the first period, and UMass – especially Breen – couldn’t miss. 12 of Breen’s points came in the first half, and the team went 10-12 from the field, shooting at an astonishing 83.3 percent success rate. 

“I think just keeping my head up more on my dribble and shots when I was attacking,” Breen said on her performance. “Just finding open teammates and then really being able to run in transition. I know we had a few breakaways where Syd hit her threes, she was hot again today.”

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Over her last two games, Taylor has accumulated 51 points, going 11-15 from the three-point arc. Breen thinks that the offensive explosion might be because of Taylor’s new high bun hairstyle, but Taylor hasn’t adjusted much to her game – she’s just got the hot hand for the Minutewomen right now. 

Three-pointers were the only way that VCU were able to stay in the game against UMass. After the Rams were held to just four points in the first seven and a half minutes of the second quarter, Grace Hutson splashed a pair of triples for the Rams and Sarah Te-Biasu hit one more to give them a much-needed offensive boost to end the half. 

VCU sank four more threes in the third quarter, but simply could not keep pace with the UMass offense. Whether it was Ber’Nyah Mayo sinking an incredible three-pointer with .6 seconds left in the first half and drawing a foul, Angelique Ngalakulondi ducking around a defender in the paint and going up for a layup, or Kristin Williams sinking a three late in the game. 

There’s still things to clean up down the stretch of conference play, and the question mark around Philoxy is a pretty significant one. But all things considered, the Minutewomen are in a decent spot right now.

“I'll be honest with you, if we could play the way we played last two games, we're going to be pretty successful,” Verdi said.

UMass will have a few days off before traveling to face Duquesne on January 29 at 2 p.m.