'Ready to go': UMass Minutewomen to face Notre Dame as NCAA Tournament gets underway
On Saturday, the 12th-seeded UMass Minutewomen basketball team will play 5th-ranked Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This will be the first time in more than two decades the UMass women have made it to the Big Dance.
Hannah Bevis, a sports reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, explained what emotions the women are likely feeling before their big game.
Hannah Bevis, Daily Hampshire Gazette: I think the major emotion they're feeling right now is excitement. This is something that all season Tory Verdi and the team have had their eyes on winning a A-10 championship, and they've achieved that goal. And they've gotten into their first NCAA tournament in 24 years. So they are, I think, thrilled.
I'm sure there's a little bit of nerve. This is something that none of these players have been in before. But talking to them before they headed out to Norman, Oklahoma, they are excited. They're ready to go.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: Verdi, the Minutewomen’s head coach, says he's super excited to have the opportunity to play on the national stage. So do we know how this year's winning season could impact the UMass program of the future?
It's massive. And we talked to Tory Verdi after they won the A-10 championship, and he said winning that championship has already impacted recruiting. But I think … regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament, over the last six years, Verdi has taken the program from nothing to a program with history, a program that is now, I think, respected amongst the conference and — soon to be — among the nation, once they make their NCAA appearance. I mean, this is a program that has built something really special in Amherst. And so I think … this is a team now where excellence is the standard. It's not just an exception.
Now that college athletes can get compensated for their name or likeness or image, are any of these players going to benefit from that opportunity?
I think anybody who's not calling Sam Breen right now is wasting their time. Sam Breen, Sydney Taylor, Destiney Philoxy is a senior, so she's on her way out. But I think there are a number of players who certainly could benefit from that.
UMass isn't just a team that has one star. Obviously, Sam Breen is their best player. She was named the A-10 Player of the Year and for good reason. This is a team that has — any one of their players can step up and perform on any given night.
Is Notre Dame known for any specific standout players or specific plays that UMass will have to pay special attention to and look out for?
Notre Dame is going to be a tough opponent for UMass. What is helpful is that their style of play is pretty similar to Dayton, which is the team that UMass just beat in the A-10 championship game. They're very long, they have a lot of length, they're very tall and they're going to be pretty aggressive.
They have a couple of standout freshmen. Olivia Miles is their point guard, and she's probably the player that UMass is going to have to watch most closely. She's similar to Destiney Philoxy, who is the really big standout point guard for UMass — except she's 5-foot-10, so she's much taller than Destiney is. She's averaging 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds a game. There's only one other player in the country who's averaging at least that much, and it's Caitlin Clark from Iowa, who's one of the best players in the nation right now.
So UMass is going to have their hands full, for sure.