Women's Basketball | Jumbos advance to Sweet 16 for second straight season
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 02:03
A young Tufts squad battled fiercely last season through a long weekend of challenges on its home court to grab a priceless spot in the Sweet 16 of the Div. III women’s national championship.
This weekend, a year wiser and a year more experienced, the Jumbos held tightly to the same spot from the start and never thought of letting go, earning themselves a trip to the second weekend of the tournament for the second consecutive season. Tufts took down St. Lawrence on Friday 57-32 before dominating No. 16 Babson College, 53-35, less than 24 hours later.
The Sweet 16 trip, which will take the team just under two hours west by bus to Amherst, Mass., is the third in the program’s history. The Jumbos made it all the way to the Elite Eight back during the 2007-2008 season, but were bounced out in the third round last year.
On Saturday, Tufts was in for a difficult test against Babson’s preseason All-American Sarah Collins. The senior had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks the night before against New Paltz St., and there was doubt about whether the Jumbos could create the right defensive matchup.
But NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Bre Dufault, with regular help from 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Hayley Kanner, did enough to take Collins off her game, at least on the offensive end. Collins finished with 20 points, but was only 5-for-17 from the field.
“I knew it was definitely going to be a challenge,” Dufault said of guarding Collins. “She’s a great rebounder and pursues her own shots and she has great one-on-one moves, but I just tried to do my best denying. But the key was the help defense coming over the middle, and also the ball pressure. She definitely got a lot of points, but we really got stops we needed.”
Collins’ struggles reverberated through the rest of the Beaver offense, as the team often looked stagnant, with their elite scorer forced regularly to come to the perimeter to receive a pass. The team made just nine total field goals all night, while turning the ball over 18 times.
“They did a really good job taking away our entry passes and our reversal of the ball, and really got us playing it out further than we wanted to on offense,” Babson coach Judy Blinstrub, who is in her 29th year with the team, said. “We tried to make adjustments, but they continued to do an incredible job.”
On the other end of the floor, sophomore Hannah Foley proved that she had shaken off her late-season slump, finishing with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 from outside. She did a good job both creating for herself off the dribble and using her teammates to free up space for her.
In the first half, both teams struggled to score early, and they looked to be headed for a battle of attrition. But a few key 3-pointers, including a second in two days from Kanner, who hadn’t attempted a single shot from beyond the arc over the course of the entire regular season, gave the Jumbos some breathing room as well as a 29-19 halftime lead.
“To be honest, she’s actually a really good 3-point shooter,” said Tufts coach Carla Berube, who said couldn’t help but chuckle when Kanner’s shot went down. “I’m not sure if she’ll be taking more as the season progresses, but I think it’s a part of her game she could expand for the next couple of years.”
The teams came out of the locker rooms to a rather bipartisan crowd, with Babson traveling less than an hour to Medford. But Tufts was able to slowly take the opposition’s supporters out of the game with stifling defense and long, drawn out possessions. Finally, time began to run out on the Beavers, and when they were forced to push, the Jumbos capitalized, putting the game away.
The night before, Tufts battled St. Lawrence in what quickly became a one-sided affair. In the opening 10 minutes, all five Jumbos starters connected on 3-pointers, and the team started the game 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. The result was a 35-13 halftime lead and a deflated Saints side.
“It felt like a complete 180 from when we played Bowdoin,” Dufault said of the weekend. “We played with so much energy and so much passion,
and we all wanted it.”
On the defensive side, it was once again Dufault doing some of the most important work, shutting down St. Lawrence sophomore guard Kara McDuffee, the team’s leading scorer. With McDuffee and junior forward Kelly Legg both thrown off their game, the Saints struggled to find a third option. The pair still ended up taking more than half of the attempts and contributed 20 of 32 points, which was never going to be enough to keep pace with the Jumbos.