Tufts begins its sixth consecutive NCAA Championship campaign this upcoming weekend at home, where it will be matched up against St. Joseph’s of Maine (24-4, 15-1 in the Great Northeast Atlantic Conference) in the opening round on Friday.
“We’re excited to be in the NCAA tournament. There’s nothing we take lightly or take for granted, so we’re really thrilled for this opportunity,” coach Carla Berube said. “We’ve had to move past Sunday’s game [against Amherst] and learn from what happened in the game and keep getting better, [so] it’s exciting to be able to host three great programs that are coming here this weekend. We’re ready to move on to this new [part of the] season and play new teams that we haven’t seen this year.”
If Tufts defeats St. Joseph’s, it will play either DeSales (20-7, 11-3 in Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom) or Husson (22-4, 16-2 in North Atlantic Conference) on Saturday — they would have competed against each other the day before. Tufts will host the first and second round action of the NCAA tounrnament at Cousens Gym this weekend, playing at home for the first time since the first round of the NESCAC tournament on Feb. 18.
“Any time we can play in our gym in front of our fans, families and the community, we feel very excited and fortunate,” Berube said. “We knew we were going to have to go on the road and win against a very tough crowd in Amherst [last weekend], and [we] didn’t come out [with] the win that we had hoped, but anytime you have the home crowd, it can help with adrenaline and momentum.”
Following the end of the NESCAC season, conference accolades were awarded to three of the Jumbos’ starters. Senior tri-captain forward Michela North and junior forward Melissa Baptista were named to the All-NESCAC First Team, and junior tri-captain Lauren Dillon was named Defensive Player of the Year.
North has been named to the All-Conference First Team for the past two years, and she received Second Team accolades as a sophomore. She has been averaging 11.1 points while shooting a team-high 48.8 percent from the floor, a team-high 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Dillon is ranked at the top of the conference in steals (2.9), with 78 steals on the season and second in assists (3.9) per game.
Baptista, the leading scorer for the Jumbos this season, is averaging 12.7 points and leading the team from beyond the arc with a team-best 37.4 percent. Baptista also leads the team with 1.7 rejections per game for second place in the NESCAC in blocks, fifth in 3-point percentage and second in points overall.
“I’m just trying to be a confident offensive player, working on my shot, driving, and I think staying confident on the court goes hand in hand with reading and reacting to what the defense is doing, so [it’s just about] being smart offensively,” Baptista said. “Offensive rebounding has been a thing coach has been on me about, and I think something to have on my mind [is] to have a stronger mentality, to push myself even when I’m tired or lazy to create as many offensive opportunities for myself as possible.”
Baptista has scored 21 or more points on four occasions, and she single-handedly scored more than half of the Jumbos’ 37 points this past weekend against Amherst with a 19-point effort on 7-for-14 shooting and 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.
“Against Amherst, we didn’t do the little things that are actually big things. [We] missed box-outs, some defensive letdowns [and had] costly turnovers,” Berube said. “We have to play 40 minutes of Jumbo basketball, and we [had] some really great times on Saturday and Sunday, but we also had some letdowns, and that can’t happen [because] against really great teams we’ve got to be able to execute.”
Berube is confident that the veterans on the team will help its chances in the NCAA tournament, where each game could be the end of its season.
“This year, we have some really experienced players, and that will help us. They’re a little bit different because they know that if we don’t win this game, we don’t move on,” Berube said. “I’m very confident in the players that we have who will help our underclassmen who haven’t been in this situation. Hopefully, every year if we keep going as far as we have … it’ll keep building [experience] each year.”
Besides experience, the most important factor for the team’s success continues to be consistency in play moving forward.
“One big takeaway [from the loss at Amherst] is the overall tone and mentality that we’re going to have,” Baptista said. “We don’t want to take any team for granted, and we know that from here on out every game could be the end of our season, so I think not taking anything for granted is just the overall mentality.”