UMass basketball: Minutewomen pound Albany on the boards to advance to WNIT 2nd round

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-17-2023 10:08 PM

AMHERST – UMass’ strong presence on the low block overwhelmed Albany in the WNIT’s opening round Friday in Amherst. The Minutewomen grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and scored 25 second chance points en route to a 73-48 victory. They will face Harvard in the second round at 7 p.m. Monday back in the Mullins Center.

UMass’ 27th win of the season set a new program record.

“It’s not really a surprise to me with this group of people. It’s a special team,” UMass guard Sydney Taylor said. “We’re taking it as we go into the next game to try and set a new record.”

UMass (27-6) held the Great Danes to 23 percent shooting from the field and forced 18 turnovers, which led to 18 points.  The Minutewomen out rebounded Albany 54-39 with 40 points in the paint.

“The person guarding Ange (UMass forward Angelique Ngalakulondi) was like 5-10,” Taylor said. “That was a big emphasis going into the game was pound the paint.”

Someone that small couldn’t contain Ngalakulondi. She notched a double-double in just 20 minutes, 52 seconds of game time, when she grabbed her 10th rebound. She played 17 of those minutes, scoring 10 points in the first half.

“My mentality for this game was just that every rebound is going to be mine,” Ngalakulondi said. “I think I did a pretty good job of that.”

Ngalakulondi finished with 17 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and two blocks. It was her fourth double-double of the season and first since Feb. 4 against La Salle.

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Graduate student Sam Breen joined her with a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double, her 19th of the year. Sydney Taylor scored a team-high 19 points with six rebounds and three 3s. She’s still recovering from a broken bone under her right eye but wasn’t affected too much.

“I'm just doing what I do and staying confident in what I do. Keep shooting if shots or not falling and I got a couple of the fall early in the third. My teammates kept finding me and just got into a rhythm,” Taylor said. “It really hasn't affected my play, like my eyesight or anything like that. It’s a little scary attacking the rim, just being cautious of getting hit or a rebound or something like that, but I just tried to do what I could do.”

The Minutewomen put the game out of reach with a 10-0 run to essentially open the second half after Albany made two free throws. UMass kept the great Danes off the scoreboard for 4 min utes, 20 seconds in between free throw makes. Albany (22-12) didn’t make a second-half field goal for 5:44.

UMass’ lead grew from  eight to 17 over that stretch.

Breen dropped in a  jumper with 8:29 left that put the Minutewomen up 20 for the first time 58-38 with 8:29 left.

They led by as many as 30 after Taylor drilled a 3 with 1:40 left to make it 73-43.

UMass trailed 11-8 early after a Fatima Lee 3 with 5:48 left in the first quarter. Taylor dropped in her own triple nine seconds later. That sparked a 9-0 run that restored the Minutewomen’s lead.

“The last thing you want to do with a team like this is give them the opportunity to get comfortable, to gain confidence,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said.

Makennah White (12 points) put UMass up 13-11 with a offensive rebound put back at the 5:12 mark. The Minutewomen stretched that advantage to six and held a 23-18 lead after a quarter.

White pushed the gap to double digits 34-24 when White popped in another offensive rebound layup. It stretched as wide as 12 after a White jumper, and the Minutewomen led 36-26 at the halftime break.

UMass prevailed against former teammate Grace Heeps, a Northfield Mount Hermon product who played for the Minutewomen in 17 games during the 2019-20 season before transferring to Albany.

“I feel like there's always going to be energy for me, at least whenever I'm playing an old teammate or a friend, just to kind of show them what they’re missing,” Taylor said.

It was UMass’ first game in nearly two weeks after losing the Atlantic 10 championship game in overtime March 5. The Minutewomen missed seven of their first nine shots and went 0-for-4 from 3.

“It's been a tough turnaround. Obviously, losing the championship game, that was hard. When you're sitting around and waiting and then your name doesn't get called on Selection Sunday,” Verdi said. “You’ve got to put that in the past. You can't dwell on it. It's over and done with ,and now you have an opportunity to go win a championship in another tournament,  in a national tournament and and do something special.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>