MEDFORD - Despite their 23-3 record and third-straight 10-0 NESCAC season, the Tufts Women's Basketball team was forced to play on the road this weekend when NCAA berths were announced on Monday.
NCAA rules do not allow schools to host men's and women's tournament games in the same weekend. If both teams qualify to host a Regional, the men's team receives the opportunity in even years and the women's team gets it in odd years. When the Tufts men were announced as a 2016 NCAA Regional host, the women knew they were road-bound.
"We're really happy for the men," head coach Carla Berube said. "It means that Tufts Athletics is doing great things. We're really strong in a lot of our sports and it's a great thing for the University."
The Tufts women will travel to the University of New England for a first-round game agaisnt Regis College on Friday at 5 pm. The Jumbos will be playing on the road in the Regional round for the first time since 2010.
They'd certainly rather be staying home at Cousens Gym, where they have won 12 straight NCAA games. In each of the last two years the Jumbos hosted and won the NCAA Regional and Sectional rounds to advance to the "final four."
However, this particular Tufts team has already proven it has what it takes to win tough games on the road. On February 6, the Jumbos became the first team since 2009 to defeat Amherst in LeFrak Gymnasium. Amherst had won 121 straight games at home and was approaching the NCAA's all-time home winning streak record (all divisions) of 129 games by the University of Kentucky men from 1943-55. The Jumbos ended the streak with a 52-51 win, overcoming an eight-point deficit late in the third quarter.
Tufts also earned key NESCAC wins against eventual conference semi-finalists Bowdoin and Colby on the road less than 24 hours apart January 8-9.
"I think that no matter what this team is going to bring a toughness to the game," Berube said. "Basketball is basketball whatever gym you're in. We have to play well up there to have a chance of advancing. It will be nice to get on the road and focus just on basketball and our team and we look at it as a great opportunity."
Regis was a remarkable 18-0 in the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) this year, leading to a 24-3 overall record heading into Friday. The Pride won their fourth straight league title by 22 points (60-38) over Newbury. They are looking for their first NCAA victory in their fifth tournament appearance.
Regis junior forward Amanda Hawkesworth is the NECC Player of the Year. She enters NCAA's averaging 17.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. The Pride lead the nation with a +16.6 rebounding margin. Sophomore Brittany Stone is tops on the team with 9.4 boards per game.
Tufts plays the brand of basketball they've become known for under Coach Berube. The Jumbos rank second nationally in scoring defense allowing 44.2 points per game. They also continue to take care of the ball with their 13.5 turnovers per game the 10th fewest in DIII.
The Jumbos are led by NESCAC Co-Player of the Year Michela North. She's averaging 14.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Sophomores Melissa Baptista (9.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Lauren Dillon (7.3 ppg, 4.5 apg) are also All-Conference caliber players.
The Jumbos did host the NESCAC semi-finals and final at Cousens last weekend (Feb. 27-28), but lost the championship 50-49 to Amherst. That stopped a 31-game winning streak at Cousens. Perhaps the time is right to go on the road.
"We're looking forward to it as an opportunity to kind of get away from campus and just be road warriors," Berube said. "This is a new season right now. It's one and you're done. I think there's a little bit of a chip on our shoulder from the loss on Sunday and we've got to go get after it again."
The Tufts-Regis game can be watched at http://athletics.une.edu/sports/2015/2/2/wbb_watch.aspx.