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Women's Basketball | The defense that launched a contender

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 13:02

Early in the year, the focus is heavily on defense—to the point that Tufts will at times come out flat offensively, still working out the kinks of the facet of the game they’ve practiced less. In the opening weekend this season, Tufts scored just 50 points in one game and 46 in the other, two of their three lowest tallies all season, against a pair of teams that are barely breaking .500.

“Defense is a big part of our practices, especially in the preseason,” Berube said. “That’s a part of why our scores are so low offensively early in the year. But that’s what we hang our hat on, and it’s something we need to have right, especially in time for the NESCAC schedule. It’s not a lot of shooting, not a lot of dribbling or working on our offense until we feel solid with our defense.”

Not only has Berube had success grooming her teams to play strong defense across the board, but she has also been able to turn some of her players into elite individual defenders. First there was Khalilah Ummah (LA ’08), an elite post player who won not only the 2007−2008 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year award for her 10.1 rebounds and 2.23 blocks per game, but also the conference Player of the Year award. This past season, the prize belonged to Tiffany Kornegay (LA ’12), a guard who finished fourth in the league in steals and second in rebounds.

During this campaign, Berube has consistently turned to Dufault, her senior co−captain and go−to defender against elite opposition, and Dufault has rarely disappointed. She held NESCAC points leader Tracy Borsinger, a senior guard from Middlebury, to four points, and Molly Brown, a Bates sophomore guard averaging 14 points per game, to three.

“My players are getting these awards because of how great our team defense is,” Berube said. “It’s a testament to the whole team, but it’s been great to have one or two individuals who really get after it. This year it’s been by far Bre Dufault, how hard she plays on the defensive end. And I think there are some good ones coming up in the underclassmen as well.”

Of course, even as the top−scoring defense in the country, there are still always wrinkles to work out. Most recently, the issue has been allowing too many offensive rebounds, which was nearly costly against Rhode Island College last week and decisively costly against Amherst over the weekend.

A perfectionist by trade, Berube was quickly working on ways to improve.

“As soon as coach Berube sees there’s an area we need to improve upon, she addresses it right away, and you can expect there to be a drill in the next day’s practice,” Dufault said. “We have a triangle box−out drill that she likes when our rebounding is lacking.”

The other elephant in the room when it comes to the Jumbos’ style of play is their offensive production. Some nights, even as the defensive is as potent as ever, a lack of offensive productivity creates some ugly score lines, like being tied with Middlebury or trailing Emmanuel in the second half.

“Some games it’s high−scoring, and then you have games that are really low−scoring,” Berube said. “You never know, but we just want to be consistent at what we’re good at. And that’s our defensive side of the ball.”

Despite the issues, the results speak for themselves. Tufts is the sixth−ranked team in the country, touts the top−scoring defense after finishing in the top−five last year and has won the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year award for five years running. Not only does the system continue to work at Tufts, but Berube’s past assistants, including Kate Gluckman, now of Grinnell College, also utilize it elsewhere. Still, beyond the awards and accolades, Berube is happy just to see her team executing, day in and day out.

“If you’re preaching that and it’s something you coach by and live by, then when it’s working you’re proud of your team that they are getting it,” Berube said. “The rankings and all of that is great, but what we are accomplishing on the court is more important.”

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