Women’s Basketball Advances in NCAA Tourney
For the sixth straight season, the Tufts women’s basketball team has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament, after the Jumbos defeated Husson University, 64-44, in second-round action at Cousens Gym on Saturday, March 4.
The Jumbos (27-2) took a 33-23 lead into intermission, and then put the game away by scoring 21 of the 25 points in the third quarter, including the first 10 points of the frame.
“I thought tonight was a hard-fought victory,” head coach Carla Berube said. “I thought Husson came out really strong and took it to us in the first quarter. They’ve got some real scrappy, tough kids who were making great plays. The way we came out in the third quarter was great. We came out of the locker room with that kind of fire and intensity, really got after it and did a better job containing them.”
The Jumbos will take on the University of Scranton in third-round action on Friday, March 10, at Washington University’s Francis Fieldhouse in St. Louis, Missouri. The Jumbos defeated Scranton, 57-48, in the fourth round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
“We had a battle against them last year, so I am really excited to play them again,” senior captain Michela North said. “I am excited to show the freshmen what the Sweet 16 is like and hopefully advance from there.”
North led the Jumbos with 10 points and 13 rebounds, while sophomore guard Jac Knapp contributed a team-high 13 points, and junior forward Melissa Baptista posted nine points and seven rebounds.
The Jumbos controlled the paint all night, forcing the Husson Eagles into contested shots, while holding a 44-23 advantage on the glass. The Jumbos collected 20 offensive rebounds, five coming from Baptista.
“We have been focusing on boxing out and rebounding a lot in the past week,” North said. “We definitely went into the game focusing on that. When teams play zone, we definitely try to take advantage of the offensive rebounding and crashing the boards every time.”
Husson was not intimidated by the big stage, as a 3-pointer evened the score, 8-8, with 7:02 remaining in the first. The Jumbos scored 11 of the next 13 points, as back-to-back free throws by junior captain and point guard Lauren Dillon gave the hosts a 19-10 lead with 2:02 on the clock. The Eagles cut the deficit to four heading into the second, behind a free throw by freshman center Sami Ireland,with 19 seconds on the clock.
The Jumbos’ lead ballooned to 12 on a 3-point shot by junior forward Jennie Mucciarone with 2:46 left in the half. Freshman guard Cailin Harrington made a textbook entry pass to North with 1:42 remaining, as North finished the layup and gave the hosts a 30-18 lead. Husson trimmed the Jumbos’ advantage to 33-23 heading into intermission.
“[Harrington] has been doing a great job in practice, and that should transfer into games,” Berube said. “She has a high basketball IQ and is really coachable. I am excited that she is taking a step forward and making an impact on our team.”
The first 3:20 of the second half was the pivotal stretch of the game, as the Jumbos opened with a 10-0 spurt, prompting the Eagles to a call a 30-second timeout. Knapp scored six points during the spurt, and Baptista cashed in on a mid-range jumper with 6:40 left, giving Tufts a commanding 43-23 lead. The Jumbos scored 11 of the remaining 15 points in the frame, as the squad only gave up four points in the third, and took a 54-27 lead into the fourth.
The Jumbos attacked the hoop off the dribble well in the third and consistently made the extra pass to find open teammates. Tufts’ top-caliber, half-court defense was suffocating in the third, forcing the Eagles to shoot 1 for 10 from the floor. Husson fought to the final whistle and won the fourth, 17-10, but was not able to get closer than 16 points in the final period.
“We made a couple of adjustments on how we wanted to attack their zone in the third quarter,” Berube said. “The team did a great job coming out of halftime and finding open players inside. It opened things on the outside, and then when they went to man-to-man defense, that is when we really attacked off the dribble and started to make plays.”
Trevor Wenners, a communications intern for Tufts Athletics, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.