Medford, MA- The Williams College women's basketball team entered their final weekend of the regular season tonight when they visited the home court of the Tufts University Jumbos, who currently lead the NESCAC and are ranked 7th in the nation. Tufts (21-2/10-0 NESCAC) demonstrated how they have come to attain such a high national rank by beating the Ephs 62-37 on their senior night. The Jumbos were led by 15 points from sophomore Melissa Baptista, who added six rebounds and three blocks to her stat line before the night was over. Williams (17-6/5-4 NESCAC) was led by sophomore Amanni Fernandez, who managed to score 11 points despite getting into foul trouble early. The biggest storyline for the Ephs was the absence of senior captain Katie Litman from the lineup, who was forced to sit out with an injury.
It was evident from the first whistle that Williams prioritized defense in their game plan in an effort to stop the inside force of Tufts junior Michela North without the presence of Litman. Their strategy worked early on. Williams utilized the double team on North almost every time she touched the ball down low, and also switched between zone and man oriented defensive schemes in an effort to keep the Jumbos out of rhythm. The Tufts defense was able to keep pace, forcing Williams into six turnovers in the first ten minutes. Tufts is a team that is undefeated in the NESCAC on the strength of their defense, scoring only 59 points per game in conference play.
The score after the first quarter was 10-9 in favor of the Jumbos, reflecting the stellar defensive efforts from both sides. Tufts quickly changed that trend in the second quarter, using Eph turnovers and offensive rebounds to kickstart their offense. Leading the charge for the Jumbos was North, who finished the first half with 8 points on 4-4 shooting to go along with six rebounds. Baptista, the second part of an overwhelming duo of Jumbo forwards, matched her teammate in point total in the first half, demonstrating along the way just how much the interior defense of Williams felt the absence of Litman. Fernandez, the Ephs leading scorer, did her best to keep her team competitive, scoring a team high six points in the first half before being brought to the bench with three fouls.
Tufts entered the second half leading by a score of 30-18 and had plans to increase that lead before the third quarter came to a close. Baptista added seven more points in the quarter that complimented the eight points scored by her teammate Lauren Dillon. Williams was not able to establish themselves at either end of the floor, making just two of their sixteen shot attempts while allowing the Jumbos to execute efficiently at the other end, digging themselves a 24 point hole by the end of the third in the process.
Williams added 14 points to their total in the final quarter, but by that time it was too late, as Tufts stretched their lead to as much as 30 during the last ten minutes. Senior captain Oge Uwanaka, who repeatedly flashed her athleticism throughout the game, continued to do even while her team was down big, ultimately finishing with six points and ten rebounds. The final minutes inevitably ticked off the clock, securing the fate of the Ephs.
The loss tonight makes the Ephs' final game of the regular season, a matchup at Bates on Sunday, a virtual must win if the Ephs want a shot at hosting a first round game in the NESCAC tournament. But according to Williams head coach Pat Manning, a first round home game is not the most important thing at stake on Sunday. Manning said, "We're just going to focus on getting back on track and playing the way we want to play. Tonight was slightly disappointing in that we did not execute the way we wanted to on either end, and we did not compete the way we were going to have to to beat a team like Tufts. Sunday is going to be all about playing Williams basketball, not about getting a high seed or a favorable matchup for the tournament."
For Tufts, the win marked the end of their regular season and gave the Jumbos the honor of home court advantage throughout the NESCAC tournament.