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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Womens' Basketball Preview | Jumbos face critical NESCAC weekend against Middlebury, Williams

With a logjam emerging at the top of the NESCAC standings, Tufts will look to leap toward the top with two important road games this weekend.

The Jumbos are currently tied for second place in the league with Wesleyan and Williams going into tonight's game versus the Middlebury Panthers. The Bowdoin Polar Bears, seven-time defending NESCAC champions, hold a half-game lead over their closest league foes with a 5-1 record.

Currently ranked at No. 14 in the national poll on D3hoops.com, Tufts will carry a seven-game winning streak into the weekend and looks to remain unbeaten on the road this season. The 11-9 Panthers are near the bottom of the standings in the NESCAC but will pose a challenge for Tufts. The Jumbos must avoid looking ahead to the game with Williams, as on paper they appear to match up well with this Middlebury team.

"Right now we have a lot on our plates," said junior forward Katie Tausanovitch, who is also an assistant layout editor for the Daily. "Taking things one step at a time isn't the only option we have, but it is kind of a necessity. The four games we have left in the season are all big games, and we have a chance to host NESCACs, something that has never been done at Tufts. We are really taking each game one at a time because they are all important."

Before a win on Tuesday over non-conference opponent Plattsburgh State, the Panthers had just one victory in their previous six games. With a victory over the Jumbos, Middlebury would likely be assured a spot in the top eight, putting them into the NESCAC Tournament.

The Panthers are led by a pair of junior guards in Emily Johnson and Ashley Barron, who both average just over 10 points a game. The team's top inside player is senior Lani Young, who averages 9.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.

Tufts, meanwhile, continues to win on the defensive end, leading the league in both points allowed at just 51.0 per game and also opponent's field goal percentage at .321. That could spell trouble for a Middlebury offense that struggles shooting the ball and has seen its points per game dip by almost eight in NESCAC contests.

"I think that our defense does a very good job stopping all inside play, and we have a lot of good rebounders, which limits second shots," Tausanovitch said.

On Saturday, the Jumbos will be in Williamstown, Mass. to take on the Ephs in a contest featuring two NESCAC title hopefuls. Williams will face Bates tonight and is riding a five-game winning streak after soundly defeating Middlebury last Saturday. This game could prove to be a true test for the Tufts defense, as Williams is the second-best scoring team in the league at 70.5 points per game.

Junior guard Mika Peterman, the third-highest scorer in the NESCAC with 15.4 points per game, leads the Ephs. The team also features a pair of freshman forwards - Chessie Jackson and Taylor Shea - who are averaging double figures. Both happen to be over six feet tall, possessing the height to match up with Tufts' Tausanovitch and senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah. Jackson is eighth in the league in scoring with 13 points per game and also averages 6.7 rebounds, while Shea averages 11.3 points and leads the team in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game.

"We are thinking about Middlebury first, but we have to be prepared for Williams," coach Carla Berube said. "They have a great inside-outside game, a very good shooter in Peterman, a great point guard who does a good job of getting everyone involved, and they are solid in the post.

"I think we match up well with them. We have to play our solid defense, not necessarily anything different; we are just going to come out and play the pressure-packed defense we play and allow only one shot and get a hand in their face."

With just two more games left on the schedule after this weekend, including a matchup with Bowdoin, the Jumbos know that a pair of victories will go a long way to solidifying their position at the top of the league standings.

"Our goal is to win the NESCAC regular season championship and hopefully be the No. 1 seed," Berube said. "For that to happen, we need these two victories, and it starts at Middlebury on Friday. This is a very tough road trip to drive to Middlebury and then go to Williams, but I think we have done a good job of being focused on the task at hand. I would love to drive back to campus Saturday night 2-0."