BRUNSWICK, Maine – Third-seeded Tufts Women's Basketball enters the 2018-19 New England Small Athletic Conference (NESCAC) semifinals this weekend at Morrell Gymnasium on the campus of Bowdoin College after defeating sixth-seeded Williams 75-51 last Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Jumbos will play the No. 2 seeded Amherst Mammoths at 4 pm on Saturday.
The brown and blue got 19 points from senior co-captain Jac Knapp in their quarterfinal win over the Ephs. Sophomore Emily Briggs also scored in double-figures with 11 points. The Jumbos moved the ball well in this contest, led by eight assists from junior co-captain Erica DeCandido. First-year Molly Ryan recorded three steals as Tufts' defense forced 20 Williams turnovers. They also held the Ephs to just 38.5 percent from the floor.
The Jumbos have won 12 of their last 13 games and come into the semifinals averaging 74.9 points per game, which ranks second in the NESCAC. Knapp leads Tufts' offensive unit with 13.5 points per night and has been in double-digits in six of her past seven contests. She is now only 19 points away from netting her 1,000th career point and has become a marksman from behind the three-point line. DeCandido and Briggs have also been focal points in the offense, as they average 12.3 and 10.1 points per game respectively. The brown and blue also move the ball at a high rate as they dish out 17.1 assists per contest, which also is second among NESCAC teams.
"I think we have a lot of players that can score the ball in different ways," head coach Carla Berube, in her 17th season with the Jumbos, said her team's offense that is averaging the most points per game in her tenure. "Teams have to prepare for more than one or two scorers. I also think we share the ball really well. It's fun coaching this unselfish team."
Defensively, per usual, Tufts only allows 47.6 points per game, which ranks fourth in the country and is the best among NESCAC teams. The Jumbos also hold opponents to 32.3 percent from the floor, which ranks 14th in the country. The brown and blue's guards also apply pressure to opposing teams and force an average of 18.75 turnovers per night led by Ryan's average of 1.9 steals. Much of Tufts' offense is generated by their hounding full-court pressure.
"I think we're at our best when our defense fuels our offense, so they really go hand in hand," said Berube.
The Jumbos' first-year trio of Ryan, Jeanette Wadolowski, and Sofia Rosa have made an impact right away as they contribute a combined 19.7 points per game. All three are active on the boards and help start fast-breaks. Junior Cailin Harrington has started all 25 games this season and is a key contributor. Fellow junior Sadie Otley comes off the bench and plays tough on-ball defense that helps force turnovers. Senior Katie Martensen and sophomore Angela Alibrandi bring toughness when they enter games and aren't afraid to mix it up on the glass.
Second-seeded Amherst (23-2) comes into the semifinals on a six-game win streak, with a 16.3 average margin of victory over that stretch. The Mammoths are the fourth-ranked team in Division III and recorded a 60-40 victory over the No. 7 seed Wesleyan last Saturday in the NESCAC Quarterfinals.
The Mammoths, like the Jumbos, take great pride in their defense and make life difficult for opponents. The purple and white only allow 48.2 points per game, which ranks second in the NESCAC behind the Jumbos and is sixth-best in the country. Amherst has a knack for forcing opponents into tough shots and holds opponents to a mere 31.8 percent from the field, which is eighth-best in the nation.
On the offensive end, Amherst is led by juniors Madeline Eck and Hannah Fox who score 16.4 and 16.3 points per game respectively. Eck attacks the basket and often finds the shot she wants as she is shooting a team-leading 51.8 percent from the floor. Fox runs point in the Mammoth offense and has connected on a team-high 46 three-pointers. Fellow junior Cam Hendricks makes plays on both ends of the floor as she chips in 7.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Seniors Maeve McNamara and Meghan Sullivan have provided senior leadership and combine for 11.9 points per night.
Amherst defeated Tufts 50-40 in their meeting earlier this season at Cousens Gymnasium, holding the Jumbos to a season-low 21.8 percent from the floor. Sullivan recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Mammoths. DeCandido netted 12 points for the Jumbos and was 10-11 from the free throw line. Wadolowski was Tufts' second-leading scorer with eight. Eck also scored in double-figures with 10 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Tufts and Amherst have met in each of the past three NESCAC Championship games and in four of the last five. The Jumbos defeated Amherst for the 2014 conference title, but the Mammoths came out on top in the last three down-to-the-wire contests. The Jumbos are 20-15 in postseason games and have won two conference titles. The Mammoths have posted a 32-8 record and have eight conference championships, which is tied with Bowdoin for the most in NESCAC history.
"I think we'll rely heavily on our captains and upperclassmen as we've done all year," Berube said. "They understand the magnitude and environment of these NESCAC playoff games. They've done a tremendous job helping to acclimate our underclassmen for the NESCAC season. I'm sure they'll continue to do so going forward.
"Having the experience of playing against the Mammoths previously this year can only help in our preparation both mentally and physically," she continued. "I'm looking forward to watching us compete at our highest level on Saturday and hopefully Sunday."
The winner of Saturday's semifinal game will play the winner of No. 1 Bowdoin and fifth-seeded Middlebury in the conference final on Sunday at noon.
Written by Athletic Communications Intern Bryan Costello