After all the disappointment of last Friday night, when the women's basketball team started off 0-1 in NESCAC play with a loss to Amherst, the Jumbos emerged from this weekend right back in the thick of things.
The nationally-ranked No. 18 Jumbos scored an impressive 61-46 road win over conference powerhouse Bates on Saturday, improving to 16-1 on the season and 2-1 in the NESCAC. With No. 14 Amherst and seven-time defending conference champion Bowdoin both falling from the ranks of the NESCAC's unbeaten this weekend, Tufts now finds itself right in the middle of a wide-open race for conference supremacy.
"We're very happy about the win," said junior center Katie Tausanovitch, who is also an assistant layout editor for the Daily. "Under coach [Carla] Berube, we haven't ever beaten Bates at Bates. It was a big win for us."
After trailing 8-5 at the 14:33 mark of the first half, the Jumbos notched 23 of the last 30 points scored in the period and had opened up a 28-15 lead by halftime. The first-half effort took on a similar tone to Tufts' Jan. 12 meeting against the Bobcats, in which the Jumbos jumped out to a 28-8 lead and never looked back, winning 66-57. Quick starts have been a key to Tufts' success, as the Jumbos average a 10-point halftime lead through 17 games this season.
"We do a great job of getting ourselves pumped up and ready for the game," freshman point guard Colleen Hart said. "As long as we keep coming out fired up, we will hopefully continue to be successful. We just need to try to do that for 40 minutes."
Tufts' defense, which entered the game ranked 15th in Div. III in opponents' field goal percentage, was the story of the first half. The Jumbos held the Bobcats to just 18.8 percent from the field and 0-for-8 from three-point range. The Bobcats also failed to help out their own cause, converting on just three of nine attempts from the free-throw line in the period.
The Bobcats threatened a comeback when they cut the lead to eight with 13:41 remaining in the game. But the Jumbos responded with a 9-2 run, capped by senior co-captain Jenna Gomez's conventional three-point play, to put the game out of reach.
Tufts got another strong performance from Hart, who poured in 11 first-half points and finished with 17 to lead all scorers. She also added five assists and continued her tremendous shooting from the free-throw line, knocking down all six of her attempts to improve to 95.9 percent from the charity stripe this season.
Tufts also dominated Bates on the glass, out-rebounding a Bobcats squad with two six-footers in its starting lineup by a count of 51-34. Three Jumbos - Gomez, Tausanovitch and senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah - reached double digits in rebounds. Meanwhile, Bates starting center Meg Coffin, a former NESCAC Player of the Year who entered the game averaging 8.9 boards per game, had just four before fouling out with 3:33 to go in the second half.
"That was very crucial," Hart said of the team's rebounding edge. "We got a lot of second-chance shots, and we stopped them from getting second chances. With our post rebounding like that, it led to our fast-break game. I think that was one of the keys to our success."
"We know Bates because we've played them so many times," Tausanovitch added. "We knew how they were going to play. We knew that rebounding was essential. They have some crashing guards, some rebounding guards, and we knew that we had to box out. We got that done, and really, without our rebounding, the game would have been wide open."
The Jumbos had a far easier time against Bates, a perennial conference contender that reached the NESCAC finals every year from 2003 to 2006, than they did against non-conference Worcester St. Thursday night. The Lancers, who entered the game with a 3-11 record, led by as many as 10 in the first half and had a 53-52 advantage at the 8:00 mark of the second half before Tufts came away with a nine-point victory.
"We came out really flat, and we were maybe just thinking too much about the next game at Bates," Hart said. "We just have to make sure we don't keep that up in the rest of our games because we know how important they all are - they are all NESCAC games and in those games, anyone can beat anyone."
The victory had huge implications for the Jumbos' standing in the conference after a topsy-turvy weekend of NESCAC action that left only Wesleyan unbeaten in conference play. The wild Saturday saw previously-unbeaten Amherst fall 64-59 to arch-rival Williams at home after coughing up a nine-point halftime lead.
Suffering its first home NESCAC loss since 2001, Bowdoin dropped a 62-49 decision to Wesleyan. The outcomes joined the Jeffs, Ephs, and Polar Bears with the Jumbos in a group of one-loss conference foes.
"The NESCAC is so wide open this year that who knows what's going to happen," Tausanovitch said. "We're feeling pretty good coming off a win at Bates, and we'll see if we can keep this going."