Four players scored in double-figures for the Rams as they won for the first time since beating Georgetown in the WNIT. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics )
By Jack Mcloone
It only took four minutes for Fordham Women’s Basketball to show us something we had never seen before. After pulling down a rebound at the other end, senior forward G’mrice Davis – who is known for many things but not her ballhandling skills – went coast-to-coast and laid it in. It was a startling new look from one of the few familiar players on the Rams, who were able to top the UMBC Retrievers 55-46 on Friday in their season opener.
“The first game is always particularly tough because everyone is nervous and in this case it was a doubleheader with us only having two upperclassmen available and all the rest freshmen,” said head coach Stephanie Gaitley.
Coming into this season, the Rams were down to just four returning players in Davis, fellow senior and guard Asnate Fomina, junior guard Lauren Holden and junior forward Mary Goulding (junior forward Kristen Ryan is also back, but has missed all but three games since her freshman year due to a back injury). However, neither Fomina nor Goulding were available for Friday’s contest with a concussion and a knee injury, respectively. Goulding is expected back sooner rather than later, while Fomina’s situation is more fluid.
Down to just Davis and Holden, the Rams and head coach Stephanie Gaitley knew they were going to have to rely on their eight eligible freshmen even more than previously planned. Luckily for the Rams, a number of the freshmen broke out in their first games.
The breakouts came in the second half, however. For the majority of the first half, the Rams looked like a team that was relying heavily on freshmen. The offense was often either harried or stagnant, rarely in the sweet spot in-between, where a team passes the ball around quickly but also efficiently. Generally, the bright spots of the first half came from the returners, including Davis passing out of a double-team instead of trying to force her way though it like she would have just last season. Instead, she found Holden on the wing for a three pointer for the Rams’ first points.
In other news regarding the potential new skill-set for G’mrice Davis, she hit a 20-footer on an assist from freshman guard Bre Cavanaugh, and looked comfortable doing so. While there were times where it seemed like Davis was maybe doing too much – she tried to go coast-to-coast a couple of other times and turned it over, and, as was a theme last year, got into some foul trouble. However, Gaitley is not concerned.
“G has worked hard on other aspects of her game this summer and I have to trust her – she’s earned that,” said Gaitley.
At the end of the first half, the Rams were lucky to have a two-point lead, 23-21, thanks to a 3-pointer from Holden with 46 seconds left. Of those 23 points, only eight came from the five freshmen who saw time in the half. They were buoyed by Davis’s six points and seven rebounds and Holden’s game-leading nine points on 3-5 shooting from three.
But in the second half, the team looked completely different and much more comfortable. Davis and Holden combined for just eight points in the half, with the heavy-lifting done by Cavanaugh and freshman forward and German native Johanna “Joey” Klug. They combined for 19 points in the second half.
“I think we were a young, nervous team in the first half and with more court experience the better we will be,” said Gaitley.
Cavanaugh played with all the confidence and emotion of a player ranked in the ESPN Top 100 coming out of high school. She had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after transferring from California.
Klug and Cavanaugh teamed up on the second bucket of the half, with the former spotting the latter out beyond the three-point arc and hitting her for the bucket. That basket put the Rams up 28-21 with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
The passing for the Rams in the second half seemed almost San Antonio Spurs-ian. Repeatedly Fordham made the extra pass, particularly on the interior, which is how Klug picked up three second-half assists. On back-to-back possessions Davis and Klug snuck down the baseline off of back screens for easy baskets. This was an entirely new, incredibly confident Rams team.
Despite not having spent a lot of time together, there is clearly team chemistry and that mythical “telepathic connection” that some teams have, as evidenced by the Rams’ 11 assists on 24 made field goals.
The strength of this freshman class was clearest when Davis picked up her fourth foul with 2:15 left in the third. At that point, the Rams were up 39-31. The Retrievers went on a 7-2 run stretching into the start of the fourth quarter, when UMBC’s Brittani Burgess hit a jumper to make it 41-38 Fordham. But Fordham did not panic, and eventually settled down without Davis and went on the counterattack.
The Rams responded with seven unanswered points from three different freshmen: a pair of free throws from Cavanaugh, a wide-open three for freshman guard Zara Jillings and then a jumper from junior guard Kendell Heremia. UMBC mounted one more comeback, but a basket off an offensive rebound for Klug with just over two minutes left put the Rams up 50-46 and they held on the rest of the way.
The Rams finished with four scorers in double digits: Holden, Klug (both with 13), Cavanaugh (12) and Davis (10). Davis also pulled down 10 boards, starting this season right where she left off with another double-double.
“Winning is always satisfying especially when you win with young players and with G on the bench a significant amount of time,” said Gaitley.
These young Rams will look to continue to grow with their first road game, at Boston College on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. They then stay on the road, traveling to play University of Albany on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.