UMass women’s basketball: Minutewomen shake off slow start to get past Vermont, 68-63

  • UMass’ Sam Breen tries to get a shot up in traffic during the Minutewomen’s 68-63 win over Vermont on Sunday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS Tucci/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Sydney Taylor tries to get a shot up in traffic during the Minutewomen’s 68-63 win over Vermont on Sunday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS Tucci/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2021 7:02:19 PM
Modified: 12/19/2021 7:02:05 PM

AMHERST — The Minutewomen didn’t look themselves in the first quarter Sunday against Vermont. 

UMass couldn’t buy a bucket, despite getting a number of looks that could have gone either way. They had balls rolling around the rim, bouncing off the board, going anywhere but in the net. It allowed Vermont to jump out to a 15-5 lead after eight minutes of play, an uncharacteristic start for the home team. 

“We were lethargic. We've had a week off to prepare for this game and go through exams and we just looked really, really sluggish and slow,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said. “So here I am, we give them three days off, and I'm thinking we're gonna come out with a ton of energy, we're excited to play, and we just didn't have it to start with.”

Though it took them a while to get back into the game, the Minutewomen eventually got back to their game plan, ending the second quarter with a 10-0 run to take back the lead. They rode that momentum to a 68-63 win over Vermont.

It was a tough character win for the home team against a Catamount group that came into the Mullins Center hungry to take down a strong UMass squad before the holidays.

“I told the team that it’s (not) always going to be pretty, and (Vermont) did a really good job executing defensively, taking things away from us down low. But we continued to fight and find a way,” Verdi said. “I knew coming in, they’re coming off three wins, and they beat a really good Loyola Chicago team, and we knew that they were feeling pretty confident. I thought they did a good job executing offensively and taking advantage of their strengths.”

The win was certainly a team effort; Angelique Ngalakulondi posted her second consecutive double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, just two points behind team leader Sydney Taylor’s 19 points. As usual, Sam Breen earned a double-double, her eighth of the season, collecting 12 points and 12 boards in the win. Destiney Philoxy picked up six assists and eight points and Ber’Nyah Mayo was a steadying presence with 10 points and three rebounds.

DEPENDABLE DESTINEY: The finish was a bit closer than UMass would have liked it to be – despite pulling away for an 11-point lead in the third quarter, Vermont clawed back within three points with 15 seconds remaining. Unfazed, Philoxy sank two free throws to put the game firmly out of reach with nine seconds remaining. Of her eight points on the evening, four came at critical moments in the game; besides the two points to put the win away, she also nailed two free throws in the dying seconds of the first half, giving UMass its first lead of the contest going into halftime. 

“She’s just doing her, that's what she does,” said Taylor on Destiny’s cool composure. “I don't think the end of the game gets to her, or the middle of the game, the beginning of the game. I thought she was gonna do what she does, and she hit those two big free throws we needed.” 

TAYLOR’S TRANSFORMATION: Taylor showed the strides she’s made in her game in the win as well. Coming into the season as more of a three-point shooter, Taylor has worked on being a more well-rounded player who can score from all areas of the court. Verdi has complimented his starter’s defensive improvement throughout the season, and Taylor’s offensive skills were on full display; of her 19 points, she only hit two triples – 12 of her points came from field goals, driving an open lane to the net and finishing in the paint. 

“It's definitely something I want to put in my game,” Taylor said on wanting to get to the net more. “I need to put some pull up jumpers in there too, (I need to) hit a couple of those, I had a couple I missed that I should have made. But yeah, just being able to score at all three levels, and not just being a three-point shooter.”

HOLIDAY CHEER: In their last home game of 2021, the UMass coaching staff broke out some holiday sweaters to brighten up the sidelines – everyone, that is, except for Coach Verdi, who played Grinch in his normal game attire.

“He said his (sweater) was what he had on, which was the Adidas UMass (top),” said Ngalakulondi.

“He’s not very festive,” Taylor said, to which Ngalakulondi added, “He needs to work on that.”

The Minutewomen (11-2) travel to play at Hartford on Wednesday at noon.

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