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In best season yet, UMass women's basketball team aims for A-10 championship

Forward Sam Breen celebrates as the UMass women’s basketball team beat Fairfield on December 1, 2021.
Thomas Kendall for UMass Athletics
via Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Forward Sam Breen celebrates as the UMass women’s basketball team beat Fairfield on December 1, 2021.

College basketball's regular season is coming to an end, with teams about to enter their conference tournaments and — they hope — the NCAA tourney.

While not as well known or successful as their counterparts at UConn, the UMass women are coming off their best season in the program's history, with a 23-6 record.

Hannah Bevis covers the team for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Bevis says the Minutewomen, led by the Atlantic 10 player of the year, Sam Breen, have a good chance of making it to the conference tourney final for a second straight year.

Hannah Bevis, Daily Hampshire Gazette: They've shown this season that they have the skill to do it. Especially in the beginning of the season — they went on an eight-game winning streak. When they were playing at the Gulf Coast Showcase in late November. They were playing No. 13 nationally ranked Iowa State and lost by just five points.

So I think they showed very early that they're a team that can play with some of the best. What is going to count in the A-10 tournament is whether they can keep some consistency, which they've struggled with in the second half of the season,

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: Who have been their standout players?

When you're talking about UMass basketball, it's impossible to not talk about Sam Breen first. She is far and away their most consistent and I think most reliable player on the court. She's tied for 12th in the nation right now with 17 double-doubles, so she's just cranking out double-doubles at an almost automatic pace.

Double-doubles — are we talking about points and assists, or points and rebounds?

For Sam, it's mostly points and rebounds. I think the X-factor for the A-10 tournament is going to be Sidney Taylor. If I had to pick a player, she's somebody that can take control of a game in a way that not other players on the team can. Sam Breen is always going to be very consistent, but Sidney Taylor, when she's shooting her best, is absolutely unstoppable. So if she can find her groove, so to speak, in the A-10 tournament, I think UMass' has chances go up significantly.

You mentioned consistency being a challenge, certainly during the second part of the season. In terms of who they're going to perhaps have to face if they're going to make it to the championship of the A-10 tournament, who is going to be the biggest obstacle?

Well, the good news for UMass is that they do not have the No. 1 seed in their side of the bracket. Dayton is in the other side of the bracket from UMass. But if you mess wants to make it to the title game, they are going to have to take down Rhode Island, who they have played twice this season in conference play and lost to both times.

Again, they have the skill to do it. It's just a matter of can they put together a full 40 minutes of play against the Rams? And I think they struggled to do that in the two games they've played against Rhode Island so far.

What about the NCAA tournament? What are their chances of going to "the big dance"?

I think at the beginning of the season, people thought that they might have an opportunity, even if they didn't win the A-10 tournament, to secure an automatic bid to maybe get one of the at-large bids. They were ranked nationally in a USA Today poll, which is the first time since the 1994-95 season that they have been nationally ranked.

However, the troubles that they've had in conference play has kind of dropped them down. They have the No. 3 seed in the A-10 tournament right now, which, when you're looking at some of the other more well-known Division I teams, not everybody's looking at the A-10 conference and saying, 'Oh, we'll put three 10 teams in the NCAA tournament.' So at this point, if they want to make it to the big dance, they're going to have to win the A-10 tournament, which is certainly possible, but that will secure them that automatic bid.

They have to get by Rhode Island and perhaps Dayton.

Yeah, you know, there can always be upsets in this tournament. But I think it's pretty safe to say based on what we've seen this season, they will have to be both Rhode Island and Dayton to win the A-10 tournament, and they haven't done that yet this year.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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