In her four seasons with the Brandeis Judges, All-American post player Caitlin Malcolm saw her team beat Tufts four times and contributed more than a third of the Judges' 275 points in the four contests.
So when Malcolm finished out her career - and finished beating up on the Jumbos - Tufts took advantage of its chance to turn a four-season losing streak on its head, emerging from Waltham with a 57-43 victory yesterday afternoon. The Jumbos sported their own powerful inside combination of senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah and junior Katie Tausanovitch and complemented the pair with strong perimeter play from freshman point guard Colleen Hart.
Although Malcolm did not have the opportunity to keep Tufts off the boards yesterday, Tufts' victory was more a product of its own improved game rather than the Judges' missing link.
"Malcolm ... always had career games against us," coach Carla Berube said. "They definitely miss her, but they're still pretty much the same team with the same personnel. What's different is us and what we can bring."
The Jumbos trailed only once, 11 minutes into the first half, and finished out the game with the same type of defensive intensity that had given them a 27-18 halftime lead. A 10-3 Brandeis run midway through the second half brought the Judges to within three, 40-37, but the Jumbos responded with 11 of the next 12 points to widen their lead and stave off a momentum shift.
"We'll always have to harp on feeding off of our defensive energy," Berube said. "It's hard to sustain for 40 minutes, but it's something we're working on.
"Through my first five, six years here, if Brandeis had gone on that [10-3] run toward the end of the game, we would have laid down," she continued. "But we really fought back ... You're going to have lulls in games, but it's what you do with that lull when it comes that's important."
When Brandeis moved to within three at the 5:08 mark, the Jumbos went on a run of their own, scoring seven unanswered points and finishing out the game on a 17-6 run.
"When the other team went on the run, that was not great play on our side," Tausanovitch said. "But the way we responded to it shows how great this team is. We've had several close situations this year, and we've come out on top in all of them. And that's because of our attitude, our mentality and our ability to work together as a team."
That run was likely the product of Tufts' pesky halfcourt man defense, which forced five Brandeis turnovers in the game's last five minutes. The Jumbos played a much cleaner game than they did against Endicott on Nov. 17, when 28 Tufts fouls gave the Gulls 38 free throw attempts.
"We played much better halfcourt defense," Berube said. "We were talking about playing defense with our feet and not trying to block shots, and we did that today. Katie and Khalilah don't need to block shots - they're 6-1 and 6-3. And our guards did a great job closing in on Brandeis' shooters and keeping them out of the lane."
"Our defense is playing much better than in the past," junior Kim Moynihan added. "Our post did an incredible job of getting straight up and not fouling them. Everyone was going hard and denying the wings, but we did it without fouling this time."
Although the Jumbos are still adjusting to their new halfcourt offensive set, their ability to capitalize on free throws and pressure the Judges into 16 turnovers pushed the game in Tufts' favor.
Brandeis' zone press and halfcourt man-to-man rattled the Jumbos' offense, which had trouble with the first pass of their halfcourt set, from the point to the wing. But with the composure of Hart, who scored a game-high 16 points after sustaining an injury to the lower lip in the first half of Tuesday's 73-62 victory over Western New England, the Jumbos had all the tools to emerge with their fourth win of the season. They are now a perfect 4-0.
"We struggled setting up our halfcourt offense," Tausanovitch said. "There was good ball pressure from the other team. It was not our best offensive effort, but it's fabulous to know that we were still able to come away with the win."