Women’s basketball extends undefeated streak to 7 games after defensive battle

Sophomore guard Molly Ryan dribbles down the court during Tufts' 80–42 win over Bridgewater State on Dec. 4, 2018. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily Archives

After tallying her 1,000th career point in the previous game against Emerson, senior co-captain and guard/forward Erica DeCandido continued her run with a team-leading 18 points in the women’s basketball team’s win over Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on Saturday. 

The Jumbos edged out the Engineers 56–44, extending their winning streak to an undefeated seven games. Tufts is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation by both the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and D3hoops.com.

Despite senior center Spencer Vinson putting up a season-best 18 points for WPI, this narrow loss brought WPI’s record to 5–3 overall. Vinson leads her team in averaging 10.8 points per game.

Going into the game, Tufts expected long sets from WPI, which would require long defensive sets on its end.

“We expected a defensive battle,” coach Jill Pace said. “WPI is a really good defensive team and also a really good rebounding team. They like to run their sets for a while, so we knew we would have to grind it out on the defensive end.”

Senior guard Sadie Otley also emphasized the importance of smart shot selection.

“We knew that their team likes to slow the ball down — they have really long possessions and try to limit the opportunities that we get on offense,” Otley said. “So, we knew that being really smart with our shot selection was going to be really important just because we wouldn’t have as many opportunities as we would in a regular game because of the longer possessions.”

The game got off to a slow start for the Jumbos, trailing 4–0 through the first four minutes after a few missed shots. Junior guard/forward Emily Briggs put the Jumbos on the board with a layup. Shortly after, sophomore guard Sofia Rosa made two free throws to tie the game 4–4. 

“We definitely struggled with our shooting,” Otley said. “Our forwards did a really good job inside getting us points, and it definitely wasn’t our best offensive night, but I thought we did a good job adjusting and getting the job done in other ways.”

Three points from both sophomore guard Molly Ryan and DeCandido extended the Jumbos’ 10–0 run, ending the first quarter ahead 10–4. Within the first half, Tufts’ defense held WPI to two shot clock violations.

After a back and forth battle in the second quarter, the Engineers tied the game at 18 a piece with back-to-back 3-pointers. A layup from senior guard Cailin Harrington and one free throw from Ryan put the Jumbos up 21–18 at halftime.

“We struggled in the first half offensively a little bit, but our defense carried us in the first half,” Pace said. “We made some good adjustments at halftime, especially on the offensive end, and the team responded to those.”

Although WPI scored just 39 seconds into the second half, Tufts responded and scored 18 points in the third quarter. DeCandido and Rosa combined for 16 of the Jumbos’ 18 points, with Briggs adding two. 

Tufts stayed ahead, even though the game continued to be a tight matchup. In the fourth quarter, Tufts put up 17 points to finish the game ahead by a margin of 56–44. In addition to her 18 points, DeCandido added 13 rebounds and five steals for the Jumbos on the day. Rosa also stood out, putting up 14 points, three assists and seven rebounds off the bench.

The Jumbos will be back in action on Tuesday, in their last game of the fall semester. They will travel to Bridgewater State University for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff. Bridgewater State currently holds a 2–5 record.

According to Pace, Tufts will need to continue to work on being confident in their shots and specifically shooting from the outside.

“We’ll just get back to the little things, we’ll work on executing our sets [and] we’ll stick to working on our defense and our rebounding,” Pace said. “So just getting better, we have one day of prep so a little bit of ourselves and a little of Bridgewater State.”

Looking forward to the next set of games at the end of December and into January, the Jumbos will face some familiar foes in other NESCAC teams after a trip to New Jersey.  

“We’re excited for the team to have a little rest, but to be ready to come back,” Pace said about the winter break. “We head down to New Jersey right after we get back from break, a couple good tests in Christopher Newport [University] and [The College of New Jersey], so that will be fun to end off the year.” 

Otley shared her excitement for the NESCAC portion of the schedule to begin.

“It’s going to be really fun to get into NESCAC play,” Otley said. “It’s always super competitive and super exciting to have that sort of schedule going on during the weekends. But, we’ve had a really good start so far and things are looking good and exciting, so it should be fun.”