Tufts picked up five victories in its six games over winter break as it kicked off its NESCAC season, emerging victorious with sizable margins until falling to No. 1 Bowdoin on Jan. 5. In a competitive Div. III women’s basketball season, the Jumbos fell to be ranked sixth despite only losing one game this season.
Tufts closed out its winter break with two victories on the road that saw the return of its famed defensive prowess. On Jan. 12, Tufts defeated Middlebury 74–58. The victory was a significant litmus test for the Jumbos; the Panthers had lost only one game all season. Tufts passed the test with flying colors, as a strong third quarter saw the Jumbos limit the Panthers to just six points while they put up 18 of their own, and the Jumbos pulled away to a 16-point victory.
A day before, Tufts worked one of its best defensive performances of the season, limiting Williams to just 39 points in a 60–39 victory. This time, the defensive dominance came in the second quarter, as Tufts kept Williams to just four points in the 10-minute period, allowing it to enter the break with an 11-point lead and play out the rest of the game comfortably.
Coach Carla Berube explained that the extra week of practice in between the Colby/Bowdoin double-header and Middlebury/Williams matches allowed the team to go back to working on its fundamentals of playing strong lockdown defense, a sentiment that senior guard and co-captain Jac Knapp agreed with.
“We spent all week working on our defense and getting back to playing Jumbo basketball where our defense fuels our offense,” Knapp told the Daily in an email. “We were playing together as a team and making plays. Everyone was ready to help on drives and had each other’s backs. We were able to get stops and cause turnovers on the defensive end which led to us scoring in transition on offense. I think we are going to keep fine-tuning and getting better as a defensive team.”
Tufts’ NESCAC season started at the turn of the year with home dates against Colby and Bowdoin. The Jumbos’ 79-62 victory over the Colby Mules on Jan. 4 was powered by five different players putting up 10 or more points. The Jumbos never looked back after sophomore guard/forward Emily Briggs made her layup after 55 seconds. Junior forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido led the way with 18 points, and first-year guard Molly Ryan closely followed with 16 points. First-year center Sofia Rosa led the bench with 14 points.
In the Jan. 5 match against the No. 1 Bowdoin Polar Bears, the Jumbos let up the highest number of points since the 2001-2 season, when they gave up 97 points against the Bates Bobcats. Tufts and Bowdoin traded baskets in the early goings of the first quarter. No team led by more than two at any point. Ryan’s three-pointer near the end of the quarter gave the hosts a narrow 15-14 lead after 10 minutes, but the game remained competitive in the next period, and Bowdoin entered the break with a 32-30 lead.
Knapp regained the lead for the Jumbos with a three-pointer as soon as the third quarter started, one of just four the team made the entire game. DeCandido’s two made free throws gave the Jumbos their biggest lead of the game (six points), but the Polar Bears managed to claw back and the score was 40-40 midway through the third. They pulled eight points clear at the end of the quarter with first-year guard Sela Kay’s shot from downtown with five seconds to play in the quarter. The Jumbos were eventually unable to recover in the fourth quarter, and they fell to their first defeat of the season.
“I think we weren’t playing the defense that we were usually used to playing, we weren’t able to really get stops – we would score and then they would score again,” DeCandido said. “I think they came out with more energy in the second half. Although we were amped up and pumped, we ran out of gas and our defense just wasn’t really clicking altogether, things that we had worked on weren’t being executed in the game.”
The start of winter break saw Tufts continue to demonstrate its new-found powerful offense and traditional strong defense. An end-of-semester 88–42 victory over Emerson was followed up with victories two weeks later at the Naples Shootout Tournament in Florida. Tufts’ 66–34 victory against Suffolk was followed by a 31–0 first quarter against Rowan. The Jumbos dominated from beyond the arc against the Profs, making 10 of their 16 three-point shots. The Jumbos won comfortably 78–38 through junior guard Lilly Paro’s team-high 14 points from the bench. Meanwhile, DeCandido had six rebounds and six assists along with her eight points.
“There were a lot of fun times, whether it was on the beach, or getting team meals, or just watching the opponent in between our two games, that was fun for us just to be able to see what we were coming up against,” Berube said. “The goal was really to get stronger both on-court and off-court.”
Knapp explained that the trip was useful for the team to get back into its competitive spirit after having two weeks off for winter break.
“The Naples shootout was great and a really cool opportunity for our team to go on a trip together,” Knapp said. “It’s always a little tough playing after a break but I think everyone worked hard to stay in shape over break to make sure we didn’t skip a beat. I think everyone missed playing together, too, and the energy was great. Our start against Rowan was a good reminder for everyone on what kind of defense we are capable of playing and how much fun it is.”
With the team more than halfway through its regular season schedule, the team’s remaining nine games features six conference opponents.
“I think we are fired up to be finally in NESCAC season,” Knapp said. “We have been working hard, cleaning things up on both the defensive and offensive end and getting into the gym to get extra shots up. We want to be playing at a high level right now and making sure we are getting better and better after every game.”
Tufts will look to continue its strong season tonight as it returns home to face its penultimate non-conference opponent Worcester State. Tip-off is at 7:00 p.m.