The success of the Fordham women’s basketball team over the past decade has often hinged on its ability to defend. In the team’s Atlantic 10 championship seasons of 2013-14 and 2018-19, Fordham allowed opponents to score just over 56 and 54 points per game, respectively. So far this season, the Rams are once again rounding into form on the defensive end.
On New Year’s Day, Fordham’s defense played historically well in a runaway victory. On Sunday, the Rams needed their defense to come through late in the game to preserve a slim lead.
Fordham started 2021 with a resounding 62-32 victory over George Mason. The 32 points Fordham allowed in the win was just one point shy of the program record for fewest points allowed in a game, and a late layup from George Mason sophomore center Jazmyn Doster prevented Fordham from making history.
Sophomore guard Anna DeWolfe led all scorers with 18 points on Friday, while senior guard Kendell Heremaia added 15 points and six rebounds. Fordham led the game 32-11 at the half, and George Mason couldn’t get the deficit below 19 points at any point in the final two quarters.
Friday’s game was a particularly impressive performance for the Rams, but not a particularly tough finish. This could not be said about Sunday’s game against George Washington.
A Colonials team that entered Sunday’s game having blown a late lead against Davidson in its A-10 opener came to the Rose Hill Gym hungry to bounce back with a victory. Despite a strong Fordham start, GW kept the game close throughout, and Fordham entered the fourth quarter with just a six-point lead. Both teams struggled to make shots, with the Rams shooting just 31% and GW shooting south of 30% entering the fourth quarter. The limited offensive output of both teams was not a result of poor execution, so much as it was a byproduct of excellent defense on both sides.
George Washington landed the first punch in the fourth quarter, going on a 6-0 run in the first three minutes to tie the game at 36. Junior forward Neila Luma’s layup with 4:31 to play gave the Colonials their first lead since the opening minutes of the game, but back-to-back baskets made by Heremaia and DeWolfe put Fordham back in front with just over three minutes left. Freshman guard Aurea Gingras made a free throw with 2:41 to go that tied the game at 44, and it would stay that way until there was under a minute left.
Fordham’s defense had delivered all day, holding GW in check and forcing difficult shots. As the seconds ticked down, the Rams’ offense came through to put Fordham up for good.
Heremaia found DeWolfe in the corner, and despite Luma putting a hand in the Fordham star’s face, DeWolfe drilled the shot to put Fordham up 47-44. On the other end, junior forward Meg Jonassen stole an errant pass and won possession for Fordham. Heremaia made two clutch free throws with 13 seconds left to put Fordham up five, but the game was far from over.
With GW in desperate need of a basket to keep the game alive, freshman forward Caranda Parea made a miraculous three over the outstretched arm of Fordham junior Kaitlyn Downey to cut the lead to two with 8.7 seconds left. But sophomore guard Sarah Karpell was able to find DeWolfe on the ensuing possession, and DeWolfe’s two clutch free throws put Fordham up by two possessions once more. Downey added two more free throws with a second to go, and Fordham escaped Sunday with a 53-47 victory.
DeWolfe and Heremaia once again led the way in scoring for the Rams, with 21 and 12 points, respectively. But Downey was the best player on the floor for Fordham all day, securing 18 rebounds and anchoring the tenacious Fordham defense. Downey’s 18 rebounds were the second-most for her in a game this season; she hauled in 20 rebounds in the Rams’ season-opener against Stony Brook.
The Rams beat George Washington by the same score they did last season, and last year’s victory over GW kickstarted a three-game winning streak for the Rams. Now, Fordham heads into a difficult portion of its schedule, with four games on the road over the next two weeks. The Rams visit Rhode Island on Friday at 4 p.m. before taking on UMass at 1 p.m on Sunday. Two games with Saint Louis and Dayton, two of the best teams in the conference, loom the weekend after. The A-10 slate is just getting started for Fordham, and it’s likely Sunday’s game wasn’t the last bare-knuckle finish the Rams will experience this year.