MEDFORD, Mass.—In their first meeting three weeks ago, the Williams women's basketball team held Tufts—ranked the fifth-best team in the nation in multiple polls—to just 54 points, the Jumbos' second-lowest total of the season at the time. Today, they did themselves one better, limiting Tufts, who entered the game averaging nearly 67 points a game, to just 53.
But as was the case in Chandler Gym three weeks ago, defense just wasn't enough for Williams. The Ephs sputtered to a nightmarish offensive performance and fell, 53-40, in the NESCAC semifinals. Tufts (25-1, 10-0 NESCAC) will face either Bowdoin or Amherst in the conference finals at noon tomorrow. "It stinks, because it was closer than it appears," said Williams coach Pat Manning. "Tufts is very good, and we didn't play with confidence the whole game."
To call the contest a struggle for Williams would be an understatement. The Ephs never led after the first two minutes. Their offensive game was a morass of missed shots long and short, as the Ephs were just 4-14 from three-point range and missed another 10 shots in the paint. Their bench, normally a bright spot, scored a season-low one point. And while the Ephs did an excellent job crowding the paint and forcing the Jumbos into tough long shots (Tufts was 3-13 from downtown), the NESCAC's top seed claimed a 52-39 rebounding advantage, including 17 offensive boards. "They really killed us on the boards," said Manning.
The Ephs also missed eight of 12 shots from the foul line, their worst free throw shooting performance in over four years. "That was strange, and frustrating," said Manning. "We're never that bad [from the line]."
Ellen Cook led the Ephs with 18 points and tied a career-high with 20 shot attempts. 10 of Cook's points came in a span of 3:20 in the second half, when the Ephs' senior captain caught fire to spark an 11-0 run and drag the Ephs back to within a single point of the Jumbos, who had scored the first eight points of the period, at 34-33. The last of the Ephs' points in that stretch, a catch-and-shoot three pointer from Cook off a sharp pass from Amanni Fernandez, was as smooth a play as they had run all day. Tufts coach Carla Berube, sensing her team was on its heels, called timeout.
Having worked their way back into the game, the Ephs promptly frittered away three straight opportunities to take the lead. Cook sent a bounce pass out of bounds. Oge Uwanaka saved a missed shot from going out of bounds, then took an offensive foul. Fernandez wriggled free on the Ephs' reliable double pick play, then found iron with her jumper. It was Murphy's Law on a basketball court: everything that could go wrong, did. "When we got close, we would miss an open shot in the paint or a free throw," said Manning, whose Ephs also faltered when they had a chance to tie the game going into halftime. "We forced some things. I don't think we had the best shot selection during that stretch."
Still, the Ephs stayed close, as a power move from Katie Litman made the score 40-38 with eight minutes left, shortly after the Jumbos had ended a shooting drought of their own. That, however, was the last time Williams would come within a basket of the lead, as Tufts closed the game on a 13-2 run.
It was Litman, too, who scored the game's first basket, spinning to her left and converting an clean layup. 15 minutes later, she did it again, to pull the Ephs back to within a basket of the Jumbos at 20-18. In the time in between those baskets, the contest quickly devolved from an uptempo affair into a stuffy, low-scoring game of missed opportunities. Devon Caveney led the Ephs with 10 points in the period, while Tufts' Hayley Kanner matched her with 10 of her own.
In the second half, it was a different story: Kanner scored another 10 points, including back-to-back late buckets in the paint late to make the score 43-38 and jump-start the Jumbos' final push to victory. Caveney, meanwhile, went scoreless on seven shots, including four critical misses from downtown.
The Ephs (20-6, 7-3 NESCAC), ranked fourth in the New England region entering the weekend, will find out on Monday at 2:30pm if they will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which begins next weekend.