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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Women's basketball looks to repeat as NESCAC champions at Cousens this weekend

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Senior guard Hannah Foley will look to shut down Williams' guards on Sunday.

The NESCAC Championship will be held this Sunday at Cousens gymnasium, but whether the No. 5 women’s basketball team will have a shot at defending its title and becoming back-to-back champions for the first time will depend on its semifinal matchup against fourth-seeded Williams the day before.

Tufts is coming off a blowout victory against Hamilton, where they built up a 37-14 lead in the first half en route to a 64-43 win that was never in doubt. Led by the powerful post play of sophomore center Michela North and senior tri-captain forward Hayley Kanner, Tufts shot 48.5 percent from the field in the first half and outrebounded Hamilton 40-31 overall.

The Jumbos will be relying on North and Kanner, the team’s leading scorers of the season, in the paint. North has averaged 13.8 points per game and Kanner has averaged 13.

Williams will test their scoring prowess. The Ephs are coming off arguably their gutsiest win of the season; they pulled out a 45-44 comeback win against Conn. College this past weekend. The team overcame a 10-point halftime deficit thanks to strong play from their own frontcourt, junior Katie Litman, who scored 10 points in just 18 minutes. Litman's classmate Oge Uwanaka filled up the stat sheet coming off the bench with eight points, four assists, four steals and three blocks.

Still, the Jumbos are confident that they will be able to halt the Ephs’ momentum with strong defense in the opening minutes.

“There’s [their momentum], but we also know that Conn. College is a great team,” sophomore guard Josie Lee said. “Even if they'll have the momentum after that [game], we’ll be looking to shut them down especially in those first five minutes.”

Tufts already boasts the nation's best defense, holding opponents to just 46.4 points per game, and is powered by North's and Kanner's advantage on the boards, averaging 8.5 and 6.0 rebounds (coupled with 2.4 blocks) per game respectively.

The battle on the defensive end will depend on the Jumbos' ability to contain the Ephs' top scorer and co-captain, senior point guard Ellen Cook, who is leading her team in points per game (14.1), assists per game (2.9), steals per game (1.8) and minutes per game (31.8), having started all 25 games of the season thus far.

“Williams is one of the few teams in the NESCAC that matches us in height advantage, and they also have very quick and strong guards,” Lee said. “We need to make sure we’re always boxing out and [the game will] definitely be about the boards. Personally I’ll be guarding one of the guards and they’re all shooters so they’ll kick it out and I’ll play perimeter defense, [but] if they do get by me, my teammates will have my back.”

Film, as well as more detailed analysis of their opponents and their opponents' offense, become much more important in the post-season, when each game could be the final game of the season for the Jumbos.

“Film is a big part of our preparation and I have to know my own personnel, what her tendencies are, how I can defend them and how I can detect them too,” North said. “In practice we’ll also have skill players that try to mimic how Williams plays so we can adjust to how they attack the basket and know how best to defend them in the game.”

As Tufts looks to go deep into the post-season, following an unprecedented Final Four berth at the 2014 NCAA Div. III Championship and the program's first NESCAC Championship, the first-years, most notably forward Melissa Baptista and point guard Lauren Dillon, will have to ensure they do not get swept up in the hype and excitement of the post-season.

“I definitely think it’s important for [the first-years] to figure out and then realize that we just have to take [the post-season] one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves," North said. "Last year I had no idea how far we could make it so I just took it one game at a time to make [each game] easier to grasp conceptually. I think [the first-years] realize what the stakes are here and they realize how far we can go, so we just have to take that potential, use it and move forward with it. They get how important this is to everyone.”

The winner of the Tufts-Williams game will play the winner of the Bowdoin-Amherst game; this is the fourth time in the last five years that the top four seeds have all advanced to the semifinal round. With the familiar faces of either Bowdoin's senior guard Sara Binkhorst or Amherst's senior forward Megan Robertson awaiting in the final, Friday's winner will have a big challenge in the championship game.

Williams will be looking to get another chance at the NESCAC championship – its last opportunity ended in a 53-38 loss to Amherst in the 2013 final – while Tufts, the NESCAC defending champions, has earned the right to host the conference championship for the second consecutive year and is looking for a repeat of last year’s title.

“Each practice this week we’ve been working on a lot of stuff that will help us get to Williams but in the back of our mind we have Amherst and Bowdoin, [and] we’re being hopeful that we win on Saturday,” North said.