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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Women’s basketball loses last regular season games, looks ahead to NESCAC Tournament

Tufts drops to both Wesleyan and Trinity but still qualify for the tournament as the eighth seed. It will face the top-seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears on Saturday with hopes of an upset victory.

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Sofia Gonzalez is pictured in the Feb. 6 game against Smith.

The women’s basketball team dropped two road games this weekend to conference opponents Wesleyan and Trinity. The two losses will put the team’s regular season record at 11–12. Prior to its last weekend of NESCAC play, the Jumbos came off a four-game losing streak, including a triple overtime loss to the Middlebury Panthers. With a tall task of shifting momentum and — on Saturday — clinching NESCAC Tournament entry with a win against Trinity, Tufts ultimately came up short. However, thanks to a Wesleyan loss to Bates on Saturday, the team squeezed in as the tournament’s No. 8 seed. The Jumbos now seek their fifth NESCAC championship, hoping for a “Cinderella” story and a fresh restart.

On Friday night, the Jumbos lost 73–61 to the Wesleyan Cardinals. This marks the program’s first loss to Wesleyan since 2006. Despite an unfavorable outcome, the team produced on offense, with only a weak second quarter ultimately causing their downfall. Tufts came out strong in the first, leading the Cardinals 21–19. Senior forward Maggie Russell scored 17 of the team’s 21 first-quarter points, tallying a good chunk of her eventual 28 for the night. The offensive production was stymied, however, in the second half, as the Jumbos put up only 7 points and allowed 16 from the Cardinals.

The wheels were back on for the remainder of the game, but it did not prove enough as the team was unable to make up the deficit. Junior guard Sofia Gonzalez cited the second-half bounce back as one of the game’s positives.

“Our third quarter was actually very strong,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been struggling with that in a lot of games, coming out and going 100% in the third quarter. I think we actually did a very good job of that in the Wesleyan game, despite the outcome.”

Gonzalez was the second leading scorer of the night, behind Russell, adding 17 of her own to the Jumbos’ total. More notable, however, were her nine steals, which is the most the program has seen since 2010. Gonzalez said her preparation and teammates made it possible.

“We’ve reviewed their plays before and I feel like I had a good sense of what they wanted to do and that they were very consistent in running their plays exactly correctly,” Gonzalez said. “I was able to anticipate a lot of steals, just due to that, and due to a lot of me being able to get to the double team with my teammates. I think that also allowed me to create a lot of steals for myself.”

Heading into Saturday, Tufts needed a win against Trinity. Otherwise, the fate of its postseason would be determined by the Bates and Wesleyan game. However, coming off an unexpected loss to Wesleyan and going into a game against the No. 2 seeded Trinity Bantams, the clinching task proved difficult. The Jumbos lost 57–30 on Saturday, scoring the lowest amount of points in a game since their trip to the Division III National Championship game in 2017. The defense did hold the Bantams, currently averaging 63.3 points per game, to only 57.

However, the lack of offensive production, which included a shocking statistic of only one team assist the entire contest, made a victory near impossible on Saturday afternoon. In the first quarter, the team did not score a point until four seconds remained. Senior forward Mallory Folliard executed on a pass, and the only assist of the game, from first-year guard Stella Galanes. The Jumbos ended the first quarter down 12–2 and continued to work from behind in the following two quarters, which ended 31–14 and 39–16 respectively. Gonzalez described the offensive mentality facing Trinity.

“We just wanted to see the ball go in the basket, which I mean, obviously, who doesn’t?” Gonzalez said. “But, I think that we were, in a way, having to force options that weren’t necessarily there.”

Gonzalez continued and offered thoughts on how to improve the offensive roadblocks the team faces.

“The first step is definitely running what we have all the way through because that could definitely help with opportunities to score,” Gonzalez said. “If that breaks down, I think being able to rely on each other to score and create something is going to be really key for us, and just working together overall because obviously you just can’t do it alone.”

Despite the two games’ outcomes, the Jumbos qualify for the NESCAC Tournament. The team heads into the postseason with a 0–0 slate and hopes of upholding a NESCAC legacy of success. The Tufts women have appeared in the tournament for 21 consecutive years and made it to the semifinals for the past nine. The team and head coach Jill Pace, however, will face a formidable opponent in No. 1 seed — and Pace’s alma mater — the Bowdoin Polar Bears. Gonzalez weighed in on the team’s mindset heading into this weekend.

“We’re feeling really good,” Gonzalez said. “We know the journey doesn’t end this Saturday … we’re just all really locked in on this weekend and really focused. We’re all on the same page in terms of what we need to do better. … We’re maintaining a very positive attitude and I think that’s going to be key to our success this weekend.”

The Jumbos are on the road for round one of the NESCAC Tournament, playing in Morrell Gymnasium at Bowdoin College on Saturday at 3 p.m.