MEDFORD – No. 4 Tufts Women's Basketball (25-2) enters the NCAA Tournament's field of 64 teams for the 11th time in program history and the eighth straight season. The Jumbos earned an automatic bid after knocking off No. 1 Bowdoin 75-69 in the New England Small Athletic Conference Championship (NESCAC). The win over Bowdoin was the Jumbos' third NESCAC title in program history.
|Sophomore Emily Briggs had a clutch three in the Jumbos' NESCAC semifinal win over Amherst.|
The Jumbos begin their NCAA Tournament on Friday night against Western New England (20-8) at 7 p.m. in Cousens Gymnasium. Haverford (21-6) from the Centenial Conference and Rosemont (24-3) from the Colonial States Athletic Conference will also play an NCAA first round game in Cousens beginning at 5 p.m after winning their conference championships.
Tufts has collected victories against Bowdoin, Amherst, Middlebury, and New England College, who are all in the field of 64. Western New England earned their automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament after defeating Endicott 69-55 in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Championship. Tufts owns a 2-0 record against Western New England dating back to 1999.
The brown and blue are playing their best basketball right now as they are winners of each of their past six contests. During that stretch, they have averaged 69.3 points and only allowed points 53.2. Tufts has learned to win different types of games, as shown in their 47-46 NESCAC Semifinal win over Amherst in a defensive battle and a 75-69 victory in the conference championship game against Bowdoin.
Head coach Carla Berube, in her 17th season at Tufts, has helped guide the Jumbos to an impressive 30-12 record in the NCAA Tournament over the past 10 appearances. Over the past four years, Tufts has posted a 13-3 mark, including two NCAA Championship game appearances. After winning her third NESCAC title at the helm, Berube knows what is still at hand for the Jumbos.
"It's really important for us to move on from this past weekend," she said. "There were a lot of great things we can take away from it that hopefully help us moving forward. There are also many areas that still need improvement. We were back at it in practice today with a lot of great energy."
The Jumbos will be hosting NCAA Regionals for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
"It should be an advantage since these are the hoops and surroundings that we shoot in every day," Berube said. "We also hope to have a great crowd on Friday that will help it feel even more like home. Even though our two losses on the year are on our court, I'm hoping we do a great job defending it."
Tufts' offense has been solid all season long as they have averaged 73.9 points per game, which is second in the NESCAC and is the most points per game in Berube's tenure. The Jumbos have great shot selection as they shoot 44.9 percent from the floor. Senior co-captain Jac Knapp leads the offense as she averages 13.6 points per game and recently joined the 1,000 point club. Knapp has been clutch all season running the point in Berube's offense, especially when it matters most, and she mhad 25 points in the title game against Bowdoin. Junior co-captain Erica DeCandido is the other Jumbo that averages double-figures with 12.6 per game. DeCandido often creates her own shot and constantly attacks the basket. Sophomore Emily Briggs has improved her offensive game this season as she averages 9.6 points per game and shoots 47.6 percent from the field.
The Jumbos have seen first-years Janette Wadolowski, Molly Ryan, and Sofia Rosa grow before their eyes and provide sparks whenever they get on the floor. Wadolowski hit the biggest shot of the season in the conference semifinal against Amherst with 1.4 seconds left to guide the Jumbos to victory. She has played well since coming back from an injury and averages 7.3 points per game. Ryan has started all 27 games, averaging 7.1 points per contest and is second on the team with 34 made three-pointers as she spreads out the defense. Rosa comes into the game and brings physicality in the low post, often getting good positioning to help contribute 5.1 points per night. Juniors Cailin Harrington and Sadie Otley combine to score 10.2 points per contest and provide energy on both ends of the floor for the Jumbos.
Defensively, Tufts only allows 48.5 points per game, which ranks in the top 10 nationally. Tufts forces opponents into tough shots, as the opposing team only shoots 33.2 percent from the floor. Ryan and Knapp lead the Jumbos' tenacious defense as they hound opposing guards, forcing them into bad decisions. Tufts forces 19.0 turnovers per game and looks to turn their defense into offense. DeCandido grabs a team-high 5.4 rebounds per game to get the Jumbos the ball back.
Western New England is led by head coach Nicole Chaszar, in her 14th season with the Golden Bears. The Golden Bear offense scores 61.8 points per game and has two players that average in double-figures. Western New England's junior class leads the team as they repsresent the top four scorers. Emily Farrell nets a team-high 13.9 points and dishes out 4.2 assists per night. Farrell shoots the three at a high rate and has connected on 31 three-pointers this year. Meghan Orbann also scores in double-figures with 12.7 points and pulls down 7.3 rebounds per game. The Golden Bears get 8.6 and 7.3 points per game respectively from Courtney Carlson and Alyssa Stefanelli. Western New England has won four straight games and are 10-3 on the road this season.
"WNE is a very solid, well-coached team," Coach Berube said. "They won some pretty big games to get to this point so they're playing great basketball right now. We'll have to stick to what got us here and that's defending for 40 minutes, running the floor hard and creating for each other. We know that we need to be at our best on Friday to advance to the next round."
The winners of Friday's first round games will play on Saturday at Cousens at 5 pm with a berth into the "Sweet 16" at stake.
Written by Athletic Communications Intern Bryan Costello