Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

No. 1 Jumbos skyrocket to 14–0 start under new coach Jill Pace

First-year coach Jill Pace and the Tufts women’s basketball team could not have asked for a better start to their 2019–2020 season. As the season nears its halfway point, the Jumbos stand atop the NCAA Div. III rankings with a perfect 14–0 record, defeating teams from a range of conferences on the East Coast.

Pace and the Jumbos went a perfect 6–0 over the winter break, beating teams from five different states.

On Friday, the Jumbos tipped off the NESCAC portion of their schedule, rolling over the Wesleyan Cardinals en route to a 78–60 win. The Jumbo offense poured on a steady dose of points in all four quarters, a balanced formula for winning in the ever-competitive NESCAC.Senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido, who has once again been the Jumbos’ top scorer, led the charge with a career-high 28 points on 12 for 21 shooting along with 10 rebounds. Junior guard/forward Emily Briggs and sophomore guard Molly Ryan each turned in excellent supporting performances, tallying 15 and 17 points respectively. 

"We were really working the ball around and adjusting during the game on things we needed to work on," DeCandido said. "We also boxed up very well considering how many rebounds they usually average."

Starters like Briggs and Ryan, along with DeCandido, have each proved they have the scoring prowess to carry their team to victory. When all three are locked in on the same day, as they were against Wesleyan, the Jumbos truly get scary.

On Jan. 8, Tufts defeated Wheaton College (Mass.) in a 91–47 blowout. Briggs led the way with 19 points, while sophomore guard Sofia Rosa, first-year guard/forward Maggie Russell and junior forward Angela Alibrandi all had double-digit point totals off the bench. The Jumbos dominated the entire game and entered the fourth quarter with a 75–32 lead.

Two days earlier, Ryan stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds in a 79–62 win against SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Rosa also scored 12 points coming off the bench on 83% shooting.

In another blowout win against University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth on Jan. 6, DeCandido had another huge performance and logged a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds along with five assists. Briggs also had a strong game with 16 points in the 73–43 victory.

Before the new year, the team traveled to New Jersey for the Stevens Holiday Tournament. In the second game of the tournament against The College of New Jersey, Tufts benefited from a strong team rebounding performance led by Ryan, DeCandido and Alibrandi, while Russell scored eight points in 11 minutes off the bench. The Jumbos won with yet another lopsided score, 68–35.

The day before, on Saturday, the team prevailed in what was the second-closest game of the season so far, defeating Christopher Newport University 70–65. DeCandido led the way with marksman-like shooting; she went eight for nine from the field with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals and no turnovers.

It is both a blessing and a curse to start a season so strong, skyrocketing to the nation’s No. 1 ranking before even beginning conference play. Now, Tufts will have a target on its back going into games against tough NESCAC teams like Middlebury and No. 4 Amherst.

As the season grinds on, Pace knows how important it is for the team to stick to its guns, identify and act on areas of improvement and block out distractions.

“We’re not thinking about rankings too much,” Pace said. “The focus is on improving game by game, and getting better every day at practice.”

The Wesleyan game kicks off an 11-game stretch to end the regular season which includes 10 NESCAC opponents, with a lone non-conference game against Babson College. 

Pace understands that while their perfect start and No. 1 ranking is nothing to scoff at, it is during this stretch of competitive NESCAC opponents that the Jumbos’ league title defense will be put to the test. Pace played collegiate basketball at Bowdoin and served as an assistant coach at Tufts from 2014–16, so it’s safe to say she feels comfortable finding a winning formula in the NESCAC. 

Pace inherited a team that already relied on creating quick scores off of stops on the defensive end, and the Jumbos thrive on a transition-first offense to push the ball up the court coming off stops.

“Defense has always been our bread and butter,'' Pace said.

DeCandido also explained that the team is still figuring things out, and that there is always room for improvement.

"We are still learning and growing with every game and practice," DeCandido said. "When we need work on one thing we improve it until we find something else that needs fixing."

Pace’s alma mater continues to nip at the Jumbos’ heels, occupying the No. 2 spot in the NCAA rankings. Bowdoin went a perfect 11–0 during the NESCAC regular season in 2018–19, and its only conference loss came against Tufts in the conference championship. Needless to say, the Jan. 31 showdown in Brunswick, Maine looms large on both teams’ schedules.

Nevertheless, the Jumbos need to take the season one game at a time. Next up, they will travel to upstate New York to take on the Hamilton Colonials in their second dose of NESCAC play. Hamilton stood at 10–3 entering NESCAC play before two road losses to Williams (70–61) and Middlebury (63–49).

The Hamilton offense is led by two electric guards, senior and co-captain Carly O’Hern and sophomore Kelcie Zarle. Both guards like to push the tempo on offense and shoot lots of threes, a formula that the Jumbos have employed with great success this year.

“They love the push, they love the dribble-drive and they shoot a ton of threes,” Pace said. “We need great focus and communication on defense, and we have to play a fast-paced game.” 

Tipoff against Hamilton is set for Friday at 7 p.m.