Women’s Basketball Splits Bahamas Hoopfest

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Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

Fordham Women’s Basketball and head coach Stephanie Gaitley likes to take this part of the season to figure some things out. This includes finding out the team’s strengths and weaknesses and where it can improve for the second — and more important — half of the season, Atlantic 10 play.

This year’s Fordham women’s basketball team has had its fair share of ups and downs, but one area that is a clear strength for the Rams? Resiliency.

The Rams split a pair of games in the Bahamas Hoopfest this past Friday and Saturday, falling to nationally-ranked University of Arkansas but rebounding for a thrilling, last-second victory over Lehigh University.

The action started on Black Friday as Fordham took on #25 Arkansas. The Razorbacks were the second ranked team Fordham faced in the first month of the season, with the first being Notre Dame in the season opener on Nov. 5. Notre Dame recently fell out of the top 25 after a 5–4 start to the season, which meant that Arkansas would be the toughest opponent Fordham had faced to date.

In the first half, Arkansas used a powerful offensive attack — the Razorbacks entered the tournament averaging nearly 90 points per game — to build a double-digit lead at the half. Despite shooting just over 25% from the field, Arkansas got to the line 17 times and carried an 11-point lead into the locker room. In the second half, Arkansas continued its relentless attack and led by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter. Despite the Rams’ commendable comeback efforts — Fordham closed the gap to six points with five-and-a-half minutes to play — the Razorbacks were just too much for Fordham to handle and, ultimately, Arkansas walked away with a 71–59 victory.

Throughout the day, turnovers plagued Fordham, as the Rams accumulated 17 and four players had at least three. Fordham simply dug itself too large of a hole and couldn’t quite climb out of it in the fourth quarter.

The Rams would look to put this performance behind them against another strong opponent in Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks entered Saturday with just one loss, back on Thanksgiving in their tournament-opening game against Ball State.

Fordham would have fallen to 2–6 with a loss, but the Rams had other ideas.

However, once again, Fordham dug itself a hole. Lehigh entered the halftime break with a 31–23 lead and built the lead to double-digits late in the third quarter. By the end of the quarter, the lead was down to six and Fordham had 10 minutes to salvage a victory from the Bahamas Hoopfest.

Fordham spent the entire quarter clawing back and, on multiple occasions, had the lead down to one score. However, the Rams just couldn’t quite get over the hump and trailed 57–53 with just under a minute left. That’s when sophomore Kaitlyn Downey took over, drilling a three-pointer with 46 seconds left to pull Fordham within one. Lehigh’s Hannah Hedstrom followed with a miss, allowing Fordham to take over with 20 seconds left and the opportunity to take the last shot. It was in Downey’s hands from behind the arc and once again she delivered, catching a pass from freshman Anna DeWolfe and nailing a wing three with 0.1 seconds to play and putting Fordham up two. The basket prohibited Lehigh from having enough time to get a clean shot off on the next possession and gave Fordham a victory over a solid opponent.

Downey, though, wasn’t necessarily the star of the game. Junior Kendell Heremaia played quite possibly her best game in maroon and white, scoring 19 points and hauling in 13 rebounds. Heremaia’s improvement over the past year is evident, and she has shown a greater proclivity to playing inside, whether that be through rebounding or even, at times, in the post. To this point in the young season, she is averaging around 12 points and eight rebounds per game, two marks that any team would take in a heartbeat.

After their exhilarating victory abroad, the Rams return stateside to visit Manhattan College in the Battle of the Bronx on Thursday night. Fordham won the storied matchup 65–61 last season behind 27 points from then-sophomore Bre Cavanaugh. Tip-off from Manhattan is at 7 p.m.