The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team’sÂ 71-56 victoryÂ atÂ home against last year’s Atlantic 10Â Champion, Fordham University, this past weekend means more to the program than what meets the eye.
This particular SundayÂ was a season-defining win for the Rams (15-9, 7-5 Atlantic 10 Conference),Â as the victory secured the program’s first winning season in 11 years. Rhode Island head coachÂ DayniaÂ La-Force has seemed quite comfortable in putting the RamsÂ back on the winning track duringÂ her first season in charge of the team since arriving from Northeastern University.
Having the first winning season in a program after more than a decade is important, but this seems to be a program that is only scratching the surface as to what can be created going forward.Â Defeating a team as consistent as Fordham (17-8, 9-3 Atlantic 10 Conference)Â with at leastÂ 25 wins in their last two seasons,Â would usually seem to be a monumentalÂ task for theÂ previousÂ Rhode Island women’s basketball program.
Now the women’s basketball team is handing out 15-point losses to top conference oppositionÂ instead of being on the other end. This matchupÂ was no simple feat for a team that seems to be growing and improvingÂ game-after-game.
Rhode Island trailed at the half 32-28 with junior forward SamanthaÂ TabakmanÂ leading all players with 12 points on a perfectÂ 5-for-5 shooting, and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. Fordham could not have predicted the display Rhode Island would put on in the second half, which is what truly marked the definition fromÂ the victory. Rhode Island outscored Fordham 43-24 in the second half to seal an important home win for the program’s morale, and the season.
TabakmanÂ has had the highest field-goal percentage of her career thus far, shootingÂ 76 percent while averaging a career-low 8.1 points per game, but with six games in double figures.Â TabakmanÂ is also averaging career-highs in blocks with 1.6 per game and steals with 0.8 per game.
Junior guardÂ TayraÂ Melendez is averaging a career-low 7.8Â ppg,Â but is averaging a career-high in rebounding with 6.4 per game compared to 4.7 last season, and a career best 1.9 steals per game. Junior guard Symone Bullard has shown improvement on the offensive end with career highs in points (8.1Â per game)Â and assists (2.4). Bullard has also improved on the defensive end, averaging career-highs in rebounds per game with 2.2 and 1.6 steals per game.
Rhode Island has a newfound winning mentality that is made clearÂ in their up-tempo style of play and high-level defensive pressure. The addition and growthÂ of freshman point guardÂ ChariseÂ Wilson has been tremendous for the program’s intense style of play. WilsonÂ is a powerful scoring threat, averaging a team-best 16.5 points per game. She has also posted six gamesÂ where she has at least four assists, averaging 2.5 per contest. On the defensive end Wilson is averaging at least 2.0 steals per game as well. She has a mature presence for a freshman at the point of a growing program, and can only get better. The record and level of basketball being playedÂ has improved since WilsonÂ and coach La-Force’s arrival to Rhode Island, and the rest of the team seems to be thriving with them.
The team has shownÂ to have developed winning habits and tendencies under coach La-ForceÂ asÂ the futureÂ looksÂ to be pointing upward forÂ the women’s basketball program after 11 years of losing.Â Defensive intensity and spread-out scoringÂ has looked to beÂ a primary focus for this team. La-Force’s team’s style of play is resultingÂ in more efficiency on both ends of the court,Â andÂ returning players statistics haveÂ improved compared to past year’s, reflecting the team’s success.
Now, makingÂ up for the 11 losing seasons with 11 winning seasons would be great, but let’s not look too far ahead.