Women’s Basketball Wins Second Straight Holiday Classic


By Jack McLoone

Fordham Women’s Basketball head coach Stephanie Gaitley likes to schedule tough competition for out-of-conference games because she thinks it makes the team tougher. Plus, there’s the added bonus of improved RPI that comes with playing—and beating—said tough opponents. The Rams got a huge boost to their RPI—and their confidence—in their final two games of 2018 and out-of-conference play by beating first Maine then Middle Tennessee State to win the Fordham Holiday Classic for the second year in a row. Maine entered the weekend 29th in RPI, and Middle Tennessee 49th.

The Fordham-hosted tournament started with the Rams facing off against the Maine Black Bears and required overtime to finish, with the Rams coming out on top 72-64.

The Rams came out flat-footed, finishing the first quarter down 19-11. But while they didn’t score until the 7:35 mark of the second quarter, when senior forward Mary Goulding made one of two free throws to make it 19-12, it took Maine until the 4:19 mark to score. At the 2:09 mark, a jumper from senior guard Lauren Holden tied things up at 23, the first time that the Rams were not trailing in the game. Sophomore guard Kendell Heremia closed the half by hitting a buzzer-beater three to take a 28-25 lead into the locker room.

One and 17/18ths back-and-forth quarters later—there were 17 total lead changes in this game—the Rams had the ball with 11 seconds remaining down 61-59. The ball was in the hands of the usually-dependable sophomore guard Bre Cavanaugh, but she hoisted up a three that fell way short…and into the waiting arms of freshman Kaitlyn Downey, who flung it over her head and in to tie it.

The Rams dominated in overtime, with Cavanaugh scoring the first five points. The Rams’ overtime lead was never closer than four.

Cavanaugh poured it on for the Rams, tying her season-high with 27 points, though it took her 22 shots (10-22 from the field, 5-13 from three, 2-4 from the line) to do so. She also had eight rebounds. But possibly more importantly for the Rams, Holden had 11 points on 4-9 shooting, including going 2-5 from three. Holden started off the season in a horrible slump, which she appears to finally be climbing out of.

The championship game on Sunday was just as close, and could be called—in the nicest way—“weird.” Neither team scored in the first two minutes, but it was an entertaining two minutes still, with a lot of solid defense from both sides. The Rams finally opened scoring with a Holden three and eventually pushed it to an eight-point lead. But the Raiders punched back, closing the quarter on a 13-4 run to take a 13-12 lead into the second quarter.

Things stayed the same into the half, with both teams scoring 14. That spelled trouble for the Rams, as the Rich Insell-coached Raiders won 93 percent of games they led at halftime during his 12-plus year tenure.

But in the third quarter, things started going Fordham’s way, and, by the fourth quarter, it only went its way. After “winning” the third quarter 15-13 to take a 41-40 lead, the Rams buried the Raiders 20-9 in the fourth. No overtime was needed for the championship.

During her post-game conversation with WFUV, Gaitley called the game a culmination of what she wanted the team to look like following non-conference games.

For example, Cavanaugh has often struggled this season and has resorted to shooting herself out of slumps, with not much else coming when she was struggling. In this game, despite only scoring seven points, she filled up the stat sheet elsewhere, pulling down 10 rebounds, dishing out three assists, forcing four steals and getting one crucial fourth quarter block. She was all over the court defensively and facilitated a lot of the offense.

Another positive sign was Holden continuing to break out of her shooting slump, scoring 13 points on 5-9 shooting, including 3-5 from three.

But maybe most intriguing of all was Goulding’s performance. After being inflicted with the “doing too much” curse—too much dribbling, unforced errors on long passes, over-committing on defense—she settled into a rhythm in this one, having what Gaitley called a “blue collar” game, setting a season-high in points at 16. She also pulled down seven rebounds and dished out five assists.

As a team, the Rams had nine assists to just 10 turnovers. In the second quarter, they shot 52 percent from the floor, including 6-10 from three. Meanwhile, they held the Raiders to just 36 percent from the field in the second half, including just 1-11 from three.

With the impressive tournament win, the Rams are now 9-5 after non-conference play. The team will now continue on to the always-challenging Atlantic 10 slate, starting with a matchup on the road against George Washington on Saturday at 11 a.m.