In Fordham’s first NCAA tournament game in 20 years, the Rams came up just short.
Seventh-seeded California defeated 10th seeded Fordham 64-63 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, just by making the tournament, winning the school’s first Atlantic 10 championship and winning 25 games for the second consecutive year, the Rams were a part of something bigger than one NCAA tournament game.
They were a part of history.
“This team did something that nobody else has done,” head coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “These kids have put themselves in the history books. They took on a nationally ranked Cal team and took them right to the wire. These kids are great ambassadors for Fordham University.”
In what was an even contest all the way through, Cal had just enough to get past the Rams. The Golden Bears scored first and led for the majority of the beginning of the game. But, with 9:34 left in the first half, senior guard Erin Rooney hit a jumper to give Fordham its first lead of the game, 16-14.
The Rams would extend their first half lead to as much as seven, but a 10-5 Cal run spanning the last five minutes of the first half would bring the Golden Bears within two going into halftime. Cal’s offense was led by star junior guard Brittany Boyd, who finished the game with 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
“She is a really good finisher in the paint,” senior guard Abigail Corning said of Boyd. “She found her teammates when she needed to, and you could tell she was a very experienced guard.”
The second half started with more of the same. Fordham would try to open the score up, desperate to put the game out of reach, but every time the Rams’ lead reached two possessions, Cal would get itself right back into the game with runs of its own.
One major reason Cal was able to stick around despite Fordham shooting above 50 percent from the field and from three point range was its offensive rebounding. Many second half Cal possessions turned into two or three opportunities to score. The Golden Bears had 16 offensive rebounds in the game to Fordham’s three.
“The majority of their rebounds offensively came in one stretch when we tried to go zone,” Gaitley said. “Unfortunately, when we went to a zone, it’s hard to match up with somebody to box out.”
The other factor that kept Cal right there even while Fordham had a hot hand was turnovers. Cal applied a press at many points during the game, but it was not the press that got to the Rams; it was turnovers in the half court offense that Fordham struggled with. Rooney and Abigail, normally very secure with the ball, each had five turnovers.
“We did a terrific job handling the press,” Gaitley said. “We capitalized when they pressed us. Where we had trouble was in the half court. We have to make better decisions with the ball. I thought we got a little casual with our passing, because [Cal] was extremely athletic and had great size, so they were covering a lot of territory.”
Over the last six minutes of the game, there were five lead changes. The biggest one seemed to be when Rooney spun past her defender and drove down the left side of the paint, finishing a layup in traffic to give Fordham the lead with just 22 seconds remaining.
But in an instant, there was one more lead change. Right after Rooney’s layup, Boyd led Cal’s offense down the court, diving across the paint and hitting a floater to cap off her 16 point second half and give Cal the 64-63 lead with 14 seconds remaining.
Fordham would have one last chance, but Cal’s defense stood stout against Rooney and the Rams to hold on to the win.
“We decided to go with an on-ball screen to try and clear the side for Erin,” Gaitley said of the last play. “Cal did a great job of just plugging the lane and it put Erin in a difficult position. But if I were to do it again, I’m definitely giving Erin the ball.”
The one point loss ended Fordham’s season. The team finishes with a 25-8 record, the first A-10 Championship in school history and the program’s second berth in the NCAA Tournament.
For Rooney and Corning, it was their last game in a Fordham uniform.
“We brought Fordham to a place it’s never been before,” Corning said. “And it’s really exciting to have been a part of that.”
Matt Rosenfeld is Sports Editor at The Fordham Ram.