By Sam Belden
After halting its losing streak with a win over St. Bonaventure last Saturday, the Fordham women’s basketball team enjoyed another productive run over the last week. On Thursday, the Rams pulled off a narrow home victory over Saint Joseph’s to even the season series, and two days later, they trounced Massachusetts by a huge margin.
Given all of that, it was a big week for the Rams. Not only did they extend their winning streak to three games and solidify their spot near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings — the Massachusetts game was also head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s 116th victory with Fordham, a program record.
“I’ve been fortunate to have great assistants, great staff, great sports information and great players,” Gaitley said after the game. “You don’t do it without having great players, so it’s a big shout-out and a big thank you to everybody, made more special because all my boys were here, and my husband.”
Entering Thursday’s game, the Rams had come out on top in their previous contest, but they had also lost four games before that. The matchup against Saint Joseph’s was an important one in terms of either reestablishing or fumbling away momentum, and the Rams did not disappoint, using solid defense and some timely scoring to top the Hawks by a score of 44-39.
The game started off slowly, with a sluggish offensive performance marking the first quarter for both sides. Junior forward G’mrice Davis and freshman guard Kate Kreslina scored Fordham’s only four points of the period, but the Hawks faced similar struggles. After the first 10 minutes of play, the score was tied.
The game’s second quarter began much like the first — baskets were hard to come by, and the score still stood at 8-8 with five minutes remaining in the half. However, a Hawks bucket to break the tie marked a turning point in the game, seemingly lighting a fire under the Rams sides. Starting with a towering three from junior guard Asnate Fomina, the Rams scored 12 points over the final five minutes, and they took a 20-12 lead to the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Fordham defense was stifling once again, holding the Hawks to just three field goals. However, the Rams also had to fight through their own offensive struggles, and they managed just 13 points to Saint Joseph’s’ 10. Thanks to a pair of free throws from freshman guard Anna Kelly, the Rams managed to take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter.
While Fordham appeared to have the game locked up, a late rally from Saint Joseph’s made things interesting in the fourth quarter. The Hawks started it off on a 9-2 run, with Sarah Veilleux and Adashia Franklyn carrying them back into contention. With the score at a close 33-29 and around seven minutes remaining, the Fordham offense finally began to stir — senior guard Burns made a jumper to help reverse the momentum, while Davis continued to rise to the occasion with the pressure on. The Rams maintained their advantage until the end of the game, allowing Gaitley to tie the record for most wins in program history.
As usual, Davis led the way for the Rams in multiple categories, scoring 15 points to go along with 16 rebounds and 38 minutes on the court. Kreslina also had a good game, scoring nine points.
With Saint Joseph’s in the rearview mirror, the Rams got ready to host Massachusetts for a Saturday showdown. On the heels of back-to-back wins, the Rams played as if their lives depended on it, topping the Minutewomen by a score of 74-43. It was the Rams’ highest points total since their Jan. 4 game against Davidson.
The Rams never trailed in the game, getting off to a fantastic start thanks to an 11-2 run to open the game. Davis scored six points and grabbed four rebounds over that stretch. While the Fordham offense cooled from there, the Rams still maintained a 14-9 lead as first quarter ended.
In the second quarter, both sides played with a certain amount of offensive urgency, but it was the Rams who outscored their opponents for the second period in a row. Fordham players combined for four three-pointers — Fomina hit two, while senior guard Hannah Missry and sophomore guard Lauren Holden hit one apiece. The Minutewomen tried to keep pace, but they struggled to find opportunities against the Fordham defense and could not capitalize on any of their three-point attempts. The Rams held onto a 30-24 lead at the half.
It was in the third quarter that the Rams really solidified control over the game. With their shooters still red-hot, the team scored 19 points in the period, and the Minutewomen looked helpless against the Fordham defense, managing just five. Holden and Missry combined for four more threes, while Fomina added another one towards the end of the quarter to bring the lead to 20. Davis, the Rams’ superstar, had an uncharacteristically quiet quarter, providing good defense and watching as her shorter teammates carried the offensive load.
The fourth quarter was shaping up to be a mere formality, and when Fordham started it off by going on a 12-1 run, the game’s blowout status was confirmed. Massachusetts hit the last shot of the game with an Alyx Stiff three-pointer with eight seconds remaining, and then the celebration of Gaitley’s record ensued with the Rams mobbing their veteran head coach.
“It’s been a great experience,” Missry, who has started almost every game in the last four seasons, said of playing for Gaitley. “She’s very knowledgeable. She knows the game forwards and backwards and I’ve learned so much from her. I feel like I’ve become a better person just being around that type of leadership.”
Missry and Holden led the way for the Rams, scoring 17 points each. Davis was also solid, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds en route to her seventh consecutive double-double.
The Rams have just two regular season games remaining: a home showdown with Dayton on Sunday and a road contest against La Salle next Wednesday. If the Rams can remain near the top of the conference until that time, then they will be assured a berth in Richmond for the A-10 Championship.