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UMass women end NCAA drought, win A-10 title over Dayton

The UMass women's basketball team poses in Wilmington, Delaware, after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament on March 6, 2022.
UMass Athletics
The UMass women's basketball team poses in Wilmington, Delaware, after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament on March 6, 2022.

Player of the Year Sam Breen scored 19 points as UMass defeated Dayton 62-56 in the championship game of the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament on Sunday to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than two decades.

Breen’s 3-pointer 65 seconds into the game wiped out Dayton’s only lead and started the third-seeded Minutewomen (26-6) to their first A-10 tournament title. When UMass made it to the 1996 and 1998 NCAA Tournaments, it was with an at-large bid.

“We preach win the day, and what does that mean?” UMass coach Tory Verdi said, “That means come to practice, be prepared, do the best they can each and every single day. We won the day and now we won the A-10 championship.”

Ber’Nyah Mayo made four free throws in the last minute to seal the win and finished with 14 points for UMass (26-6). Makennah White and Sydney White both added 10 points.

“Our who goal was to build and bring in good kids to the program in order to sustain success,” Verdi, in his sixth year, said. “And so from where we were to where we are now, it’s unbelievable."

"We finally will get the level of respect that we deserve," he said.

Makira Cook had 18 points for the top-seeded Dayton Flyers (25-5), who have seven NCAA appearances, the last in 2018, although they won the A-10 tourney in 2020, when the national tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. Erin Whalen added 13 points. Dayton is considered a bubble team to make the NCAA tournament.

Five players scored in a 10-0 first-quarter run to put UMass in control and with the last seven points of the half it was 37-28 at the break. The lead reached 52-37 late in the third quarter and the Minutewomen took a 52-39 lead into the fourth.

Then it was hold-on time.

UMass was just 3 of 10 shooting, missing all five 3-point attempts, and had eight of its 12 turnovers in the fourth quarter. Down 12 after a Mayo layup with four minutes to go — the last field goal for UMass — Dayton charged back. Cook and Whalen hit 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 58-54 with a minute remaining.

Mayo then came through with the key free throws.

UMass lost in the title game last year as the seventh seed, falling by a dozen to fifth-seeded VCU.

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