Last year, then-junior Khalilah Ummah played a key role in the paint for the women's basketball team, coming off the bench to average 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds while supporting the tandem of then-senior co-captains Laura Jasinski and Libby Park.
But now that the duo has graduated, Ummah, now a senior co-captain, has been thrust into the starting lineup for the 2007-08 season. And if her performance this weekend was any indication, she may be primed for an even more impressive season than last year's, in which she earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors on two separate occasions.
The senior co-captain combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds over two games Friday and Saturday, keying the Jumbos' season-opening win at the Endicott College Tip-Off Tournament.
A 78-44 win over Rhode Island College Friday landed Tufts in a back-and-forth battle in Saturday's championship game, in which the squad overcame a seven-point deficit midway through the second to top the host Gulls 74-69. Ummah led the way in the finale, notching eight of her game-high 19 points in the final 5:33.
After the Jumbos jumped out to a 13-point lead with 7:56 left in the first, Endicott began its comeback bid, drawing five fouls over the remainder of the period and sinking nine of 10 free throws to pull within seven by halftime.
"We got sloppy, and the momentum was killed every time we fouled the other team," junior guard Kim Moynihan said. "We'd build up momentum, and then foul them with a ticky-tack foul. It's hard to continue building on the lead when you keep sending the other team to the line."
The Gulls kept the momentum on their side after intermission, outscoring Tufts 25-11 over the first 11:23 to take a seven-point lead. During that stretch, Endicott held a Jumbo offense that had shot 55.2 percent from the field in the first period to 4-of-16 shooting.
But the game was hardly out of reach for Tufts, which went on an 8-1 run to regain the lead with 6:25 remaining. The lead changed hands four more times over the remainder of the game, but Ummah's bucket at the 17:55 mark put the Jumbos ahead for good and helped the team earn a confidence-building comeback victory.
"Usually in past years, when we were down, we would lose games like that," senior co-captain Jenna Gomez said. "We would be ahead, the other team would catch up, and we would get flustered and end up losing the game. [The Endicott] game was just great because it showed we're not going to get down ourselves and we will fight back."
The Jumbos had a much easier time in their season-opener on Friday, controlling the game from start to finish during a 78-44 rout of Rhode Island College. Once again, Tufts got strong play out of its frontcourt, as Ummah notched a team-high 15 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
Playing in her first game since transferring from Div. I William and Mary, junior center Katie Tausanovitch posted 12 rebounds, while sophomore forward Julia Baily added a career-high 14 points. In all, Tufts outscored RIC 30-8 in the paint and out-rebounded the Anchorwomen 54-20.
The strong post play was a good sign for the Jumbos, who have switched to a triangle offense in order to emphasize their talent in the paint.
"The triangle offense is going to be perfect for our team because we do have Khalilah and Katie in the paint and they're both very, very strong," Gomez said. "We get a lot of options out of it and a lot of people moving off screens."
Tufts also received contributions from its perimeter players. In her first collegiate game, freshman point guard Colleen Hart went 3-for-3 from three-point range, while sophomore guard Casey Sullivan chipped in with 12 points. Sophomore guard Katie Wholey was one of many Jumbos who posted strong efforts off the bench this weekend, notching six assists in 16 minutes of action.
The Jumbos will bring their 2-0 record into tomorrow's home opener, when they take on Western New England in the third of 12 consecutive out-of-conference games to start the season. Last year, Tufts beat the Golden Bears by 17, but the team refuses to take its opponent lightly.
"Last year we learned that every game is just as important as the others," Moynihan said. "We are not taking any teams lightly this year. We're going to come out as hard as we can and expect this team is going to be the best team we play this year. We have to bring our A game to every game."