Women’s Basketball Falls to 0–4 After Losses to Penn State, Villanova

Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

Fordham Women’s Basketball is coming off one of the best seasons in its history. The Rams went to last year’s NCAA Tournament after defeating VCU 62–47 in the A-10 title game. The game was a showcase of the Rams’ identity, with a steely defensive performance and timely shots to lead Fordham to a conference crown.

That game, played on March 10 of this year, is also the last game Fordham has won, to date.

The Rams’ issues starting the 2019–20 season continued this week, with two losses to Penn State — by a score of 72–59 — and Villanova, by a final of 73–66.

In last Wednesday’s trip to State College, the Rams fell behind halfway through the first quarter and couldn’t get the lead back for the rest of the night. Fordham lost to Penn State last season by a score of 72–55 and could only fare marginally better this time around.

Penn State got a 72–59 win behind a 25–47 shooting performance (53.2%) from the field. The Nittany Lions shot over 65% (15–22) in the second half. Particularly concerning for Fordham’s defense was allowing 28 points in the paint to the Rams’ 14, and Penn State also earned 16 fast-break points to just six for Fordham.

There were some positive signs for the Rams. Junior Kendell Heremaia continued to show her improvement from last season, with 19 points, including a 5–11 performance from beyond the arc. Sophomore Kaitlyn Downey was on a minutes restriction with concussion-like symptoms, but she was able to make four threes and score 14 points in just 21 minutes. Outside of these two, though, Fordham shot 10–37 (27%) from the field.

With the loss, Fordham started a season 0–3 for the first time since the 2007–08 season. Fordham finished that season 0–29. Head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s team looked to correct that on Sunday afternoon against Gaitley’s alma mater, Villanova, but, despite the Rams’ best efforts, their defensive struggles continued.

Entering the game, Fordham made a change to its starting lineup. Downey reentered the starting five after staying healthy following the Penn State game, and freshman guard Sarah Karpell stayed in the lineup, moving redshirt sophomore Vilisi Tavui to the bench. Tavui started the first three games at center but Gaitley made the move to go smaller and quicker. The decision gave her team a better chance to defend against a Villanova offense that showed a propensity to shoot from the outside and work around screens and long passes. Tavui would not appear in Sunday’s game.

Once the game started, the Wildcats attacked inside the painted area and exploited its height advantage over the Rams.

To do so, Villanova coach Harry Perretta — in his 41st and final season at the helm — turned to freshman Madison Siegrist. In her first career start, Siegrist scored 15 points in the first quarter, with 12 of those coming in the paint. Villanova carried a 20–14 lead into the second quarter, with all but four of those points coming from inside. In an encouraging sign for Fordham, junior Bre Cavanaugh — who shot just 24% in her first three games of the season — started the game by attacking the rim and getting to the line early on. Cavanaugh scored 23 points and, as has been the wont of her and Gaitley, played all 40 minutes for the third time in the Rams’ first four games.

The Wildcats expanded the lead into the half, and Siegrist and senior Mary Gedaka combined for 26 of Villanova’s 31 first-half points. In the third quarter, Fordham began to come back with more explosive offense and improved defense. The Rams got out to a 14–4 run to start the second half to tie the game at 35 on a Cavanaugh three just over four minutes into the third quarter. But Villanova had yet another answer, and threes from Siegrist and freshman Brooke Mullin — the niece of St. John’s and NBA great Chris Mullin — led Villanova to a six-point lead heading into the fourth.

Again, Fordham responded. The Rams cut the lead to two when Heremaia’s three-pointer gave Fordham a one-point lead with 4:47 to play. But Siegrist and Mullin came through with back-to-back baskets, and foul trouble for both Downey and Heremaia hampered their play down the stretch. Siegrist’s three with 2:39 to go put Villanova up by eight points, and the Wildcats ultimately won by seven.

“You can’t decide to play when you want to,” Gaitley told WFUV on Sunday. “I thought they were the much tougher team.”

Fordham’s defense was especially porous inside. The Rams allowed 44 points in the paint, and breakdowns presented themselves all game. Foul trouble did not help, but Fordham’s defense struggled mightily even without that consideration.

Fordham is 0–4 for the first time in 12 years, and the last time this happened, Fordham didn’t win a game all year. Fordham will win this year, and it will likely come sooner rather than later. However, the team must correct its early-season issues, as the Rams have now allowed 70 or more points in three straight games, a feat virtually unheard of for a Fordham program that prides itself so much on defense.

Next up for Fordham is a Wednesday night home matchup with Northeastern, a team the Rams lost to on the road last season. Tip-off from the Rose Hill Gym is at 7 p.m. This will be Fordham’s last opportunity to win at home until Dec. 8, as the Rams will travel to Charlotte, the Bahamas and Manhattan College in the meantime.

If Fordham wants to get that first victory, it will have to beat a Northeastern team that also enters the game winless. One team will exit with its first win of the year. Northeastern, like Fordham, has played a difficult schedule to date.

Fordham’s tough schedule has reared its ugly head so far this year. The Rams will try to learn from their missteps so far, but Fordham will have to raise its level of play if it wants to improve its results.