Women’s Basketball Earns Hard-Fought Win in Return to Court

NOTE: This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2021.

Fordham’s two-week pause of in-person activities came at a very inopportune time for the women’s basketball team. The Rams had just won five games in a row, including victories over the likes of Saint Louis and Rhode Island, two of the top four teams in the Atlantic 10 standings.

When the team scheduled a non-conference game against A-10 foe George Washington University on Thursday, a healthy dose of skepticism was very fair. Fordham hadn’t played in nearly three weeks and had only recently returned to practice. Fordham — having already clinched the No. 2 seed at next week’s conference tournament — needed at least one more tune-up before the beginning of the A-10 tournament.

Despite early offensive struggles, the Rams overcame a second-half deficit to earn a 48-43 victory. The win was Fordham’s sixth in a row and second over George Washington this season.

Offensively, Fordham came out of the gate looking like a team that hadn’t played in nearly a month. The team’s signature defense traveled to Washington, D.C., but the offense was sluggish, turning it over five times and scoring just 10 points. However, Fordham nursed a 10-8 lead into the second quarter after holding GW to just 4-12 from the field.

Fordham’s offensive struggles continued into the second quarter. Another five turnovers and a 3-9 shooting performance resulted in a match of its first quarter total of just 10 points. After freshman guard Matilda Flood fouled GW redshirt junior guard Gabby Nikitinaite shooting a three, the Colonials took a one-point lead into the half. It tied Fordham’s last game against Saint Joseph’s University, in which the Rams led 29-12, for the fewest combined first-half points in a Fordham game this season.

In the second half, it took Fordham nearly four-and-a-half minutes to score, and they only scored seven points in the quarter. George Washington freshman Ali Brigham’s layup in the quarter’s final seconds put the Colonials up 33-27 with 10 minutes to play. With their postseason seeding in hand and having not played in 20 days, the Rams could be forgiven for letting this game slip through the cracks. 

But despite the built-in excuses, Fordham did exactly the opposite.

Senior guard Kendell Heremaia’s jumper with 7:14 left pulled Fordham within four. Thursday’s performance from Heremaia was one of her best of the season, as she shot 7-10 from the field en route to 19 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Anna DeWolfe, who is currently the favorite for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, made her own jumper with 5:32 to play to pull the Rams within two. On the next possession, DeWolfe’s three gave Fordham its first lead since late in the first half. As was the case for most of the game, the two teams struggled to make a basket for two minutes thereafter until Heremaia’s three-pointer with three minutes left put Fordham up four. 

The teams traded points in the final few minutes, and Fordham found itself up 46-39 with a minute to play on the strength of a Heremaia jumper and five combined free throws from DeWolfe and senior guard Katie McLoughlin. GW junior Neila Luma’s two free throws with 44 seconds left made it a five-point game, and Nikitinaite’s layup with 26 seconds to play made it 46-43. Fittingly, GW sophomore Essence Brown fouled Heremaia almost immediately. The senior, in her final regular-season game with the Rams, made both free throws. Fordham got a stop on the next possession, and left the nation’s capital with a 48-43 victory.

The win does not count towards Fordham’s conference record, as the game was specifically commissioned by the conference as an out-of-conference contest. This was the last game of the Atlantic 10 regular season, as all other teams wrapped up their seasons last weekend.

Nonetheless, Fordham will take the win and move into the conference tournament next week in Richmond, Virginia. The Rams will get an extended reprieve from game action, as the team’s top-four seed earned them a double-bye straight to the conference quarterfinals, which will be played next Friday. Fordham will take on either St. Joe’s or the University of Massachusetts Amherst in that game. Fordham beat St. Joe’s 51-36 on Feb. 12; the Rams lost to UMass 61-56 on Jan. 10.

With Thursday’s win, Fordham finishes its regular season at 12-3, with all sorts of schedule changes plaguing the Rams’ ability to play. Nonetheless, head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s team made the most of a very difficult season. That may be the biggest win of all.

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