By Sam Belden
On Saturday afternoon, the Fordham women’s basketball team fell to Saint Louis in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament by a score of 68-58. The loss effectively ended the Rams’ quest to make the NCAA Tournament. They now have an overall record of 21-11 and a conference mark of 12-6.
The Fordham roster notched a pair of double-doubles, with junior forward G’mrice Davis scoring 11 points and 15 rebounds and sophomore forward Mary Goulding posting 17 and 11, a season best in both categories. However, the Rams had trouble handling the explosive Billikens offense, which featured a 27-point performance from First Team All-Conference center Sadie Stipanovich.
Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley was highly complimentary of the Billikens, who, with a 24-8 overall record, were one of the conference’s most formidable teams.
“I’ve seen it from day one with Saint Louis,” she said. “They’re a really focused group of young ladies. They have a special, special group. They remind a lot of our team when we won [the A-10 Tournament] in 2014.”
The Rams arrived in Richmond, VA, the annual site of the tournament, with a good bit of momentum, having won their last three games. They proved capable of matching Saint Louis’ rapid pace in the early going, cashing in on their first three possessions to score eight points in the first two minutes.
However, the Billikens displayed deadly accuracy from beyond the arc and managed to storm their way to an 18-12 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the quarter. Davis scored from down low to cut the deficit to four, but from there, the offense dried up, with the two sides combining for seven missed field goals to end the quarter.
The second quarter saw the Rams finally take the lead thanks to a team effort on offense. The Billikens stretched their lead to six points with six minutes remaining, but Fordham then managed to go on an 8-0 run, featuring some nice penetration from freshman guard Kate Kreslina and a big three from sophomore guard Lauren Holden. Saint Louis managed to battle back and regain the lead by the end of the quarter, but not without a serious challenge from the Rams. At halftime, the score was 31-28.
The Rams outshot the Billikens in the first half, connecting on 47.8 of their attempts compared to Saint Louis’ 42.3. However, Billikens was better from both the free throw line and from three-point land, and they also committed just one turnover to Fordham’s five.
The two sides wrestled over the lead in the beginning of the second half. Fordham regained the advantage thanks to a Davis jumper and a Goulding layup, but the Billikens were resilient, scoring on five of their next six possessions to keep the Rams at bay. Fordham grabbed several offensive rebounds over that stretch but could not take advantage of those extra opportunities, and by the end of the quarter, they had fallen behind by seven points.
The fourth quarter began with a nice boost for the Rams, with Goulding grabbing a steal and freshman guard Anna Kelly putting it up for two on the other end to cut the lead to five. However, the Billikens then embarked on a 9-2 run to bring the lead to the double digits, where it would remain for the rest of the game. The Rams struggled to find an offensive rhythm down the stretch, and the end result was a 10-point loss.
Although they lost, the Rams saw strong individual performances from Davis and Goulding, as well as Holden, who delivered in several clutch moments and wound up with 13 points. The Rams’ two seniors, guards Danielle Burns and Hannah Missry, were not so productive in their final collegiate game; the former scored five points, while the latter was shut out.
The Rams’ shooting suffered in the second half, leaving them with a game mark of 43.8, well short of Saint Louis’ 48.1. The Billikens were also better from long range, going eight-for-19 from three-point land.
Perhaps most frustrating for the Rams, though, was their inability to hold the Saint Louis offense in check. The Billikens scored 82 points when these two teams met on Jan. 28, and while Fordham’s defense was better this time, the high-powered Saint Louis scorers were relentless.
“We weren’t focused, and that led to them scoring,” said Goulding. “I think, for us, we feed off defense, so [as opposed to us not scoring], I think it’s bigger that our defense wasn’t up to the standard that Coach Gaitley and us, as a team, would like it to be.”
While Fordham’s conference tournament run may have come to an end, its season might not be over yet. Currently, the Rams are ranked 123rd in RPI, well within range to secure a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid.
As for the Billikens, they lost in the semifinals to the top-seeded team in the conference, the Dayton Flyers, by a score of 75-65. They also have a good shot at reaching the WNIT, so there’s a slim chance that the Rams will get a third crack at one of their toughest opponents of the year. WNIT selection night is on Monday, March 13.