Women’s Basketball Wins Holiday Classic

Kendell+Heremaia+%28above%29+led+the+way+for+Fordham+at+the+Holiday+Classic.+%28Courtesy+of+Fordham+Athletics%29
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Women’s Basketball Wins Holiday Classic

Kendell Heremaia (above) led the way for Fordham at the Holiday Classic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Kendell Heremaia (above) led the way for Fordham at the Holiday Classic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Kendell Heremaia (above) led the way for Fordham at the Holiday Classic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Kendell Heremaia (above) led the way for Fordham at the Holiday Classic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

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Fordham Women’s Basketball entered the team’s annual Holiday Classic on a roll. The Rams entered the Holidays having won four straight games and six of their last seven, and head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s team had won the previous two Holiday Classics.

This past week, both of those streaks continued.

Fordham defeated Samford 68–37 on Sunday and Houston 63–54 on Monday to claim its third straight Holiday Classic and complete out-of-conference play at 8–5. The action started on Sunday afternoon, with a matchup against a Samford team that entered play at 4–9 having played several renowned opponents. However, the Bulldogs were no match for the Rams.

Samford junior Natalie Armstrong made a jump shot 14 seconds into the game to put Samford a 2–0 lead. It would be the only lead the Bulldogs held all game, as Fordham rode a suffocating defense and hot three-point shooting to a 15–0 run to close out the quarter. The Rams continued that momentum into the second frame, as the team’s solid three-point shooting continued and the defense continued to hold Samford in check. Fordham entered the halftime break with a 29–12 lead behind nine points each from sophomore Kaitlin Downey and junior Kendell Heremaia.

That momentum continued into the second half, as the game became more and more lopsided. In addition to Fordham’s stifling defense, the story of the day became Heremaia’s play. The junior from New Zealand continued her strong play in the first part of the season, notching a career-high eight assists to go along with 21 points and 11 rebounds for her second double-double of the season. Heremaia took a brief run at the first Fordham triple-double since Erin Rooney did so against Virginia Commonwealth University in January 2014.

“She’s a terrific kid but I also think she’s a terrific player and I’m gonna continue to try to help her be the best she can be,” Gaitley said.

Fordham would face the winner of Hofstra and Houston in the Holiday Classic final on Monday. Its opponent wound up being Houston, who beat Hofstra 54–44 behind a 26–0 performance in the second quarter.

The Rams came out firing in Monday’s contest. Fordham held a six-point lead after the first quarter and outscored the visiting Cougars 19–9 in the second to take a 36–20 lead into the halftime break. Freshman guard Anna DeWolfe led the way offensively with 11 points, and Heremaia once again inspired triple-double talk, with eight points, four rebounds and four assists in the first half.

Fordham was able to keep Houston at bay in the second half despite the Cougars’ best efforts.

The Rams scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to jump up 40–20 just 30 seconds into the second half. But Houston chipped away at the deficit from there, cutting the lead to as little as 10 near the end of the third quarter. Throughout the fourth, Fordham thwarted multiple Houston attempts to get the lead within single digits, with timely baskets coming from the likes of junior Bre Cavanaugh, DeWolfe and freshman Sarah Karpell, who is normally on the floor for her excellent defense. Karpell’s late three put Fordham up 63–47, and despite a late 7–0 Houston run to make the score more competitive than the game, Fordham prevailed by a final of 63–54. Cavanaugh led the Rams with 19 points while DeWolfe finished with 17. There would be no triple-double for Heremaia, who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, affecting the game in many key areas.

“Defensively, I thought the first half, we were outstanding,” Gaitley told WFUV. “We really frustrated them, we took them out of everything they wanted to do. Then we had some lapses. … We got a little sloppy, but we responded well.”

The two games showed Fordham’s overall depth and displayed the team’s fundamental qualities. Fordham got excellent performances in one or both games from Cavanaugh, Heremaia and DeWolfe and also got solid minutes from other players, as well. Most importantly, Fordham played excellent defense over the two games en route to both wins.

The Rams have wrapped up out-of-conference play at 8–5, almost the same record they had at this time last year. Fordham has been outstanding since its 0–4 start to the season, and the Rams have all of the momentum entering Atlantic 10 Conference play, where Fordham is expected to be one of the favorites to prevail in the conference.

The Rams’ first A-10 game is against St. Bonaventure this Saturday at the Rose Hill Gym. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. Fordham is ready to defend its title, and the team’s finish to out-of-conference play makes that extremely clear.