Before Thurdsay’s tilt with Saint Louis, the University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team faced two strong competitors, La Salle University and Duquesne University, and were unable to topple either.
However, on Senior Day the Rams took an emotional victory over the Billikens after building a 33-8 lead in the first half. The three results take them to a 16-11 (8-7 Atlantic 10 Conference) record.
In the first game against La Salle, the Rams suffered a bitter loss 47-45 after a comeback in the second half from the Explorers proved to be too much to stop. Before half time, URI was up five points but La Salle reclaimed a win after intense exchanges to the final seconds.
Against Duquesne, the Rams lost by a larger deficit, 60-50. Going into the game, the Rams were second-worst in the conference at defending 3’s and Duquesne took full advantage of this. After 15 minutes, only one score from the Dukes came from within the arc and they would end the half ahead, 31-20.
In the second half, the Rams would continue to battle with Samantha Tabakman featuring heavily for the Rams, scoring a team-high 18 points. Duquesne was given a lot of second chances, though, as 18 out of 42 rebounds were on the offensive end, and this helped them secure their final 10-point win.
On Thursday, the team needed to find inspiration to halt a losing streak that has not occurred since the opening of the season. Head coach Daynia La-Force said that for St. Louis, “we had to control our destiny. Those two losses really hurt us in the standings and this game was do or die.”
The Rams started very strong. With 12:30 remaining in the first half they already led 22-2. The team excelled at what they have been feared of for much of the season – a high-pressure defense, securing 14 steals and forcing 21 turnovers by the end of the game. On the offensive end, they effectively collapsed the defense and looked to the outside, including the six 3-point shots they would sink in this half.
Three of the shots from beyond the arc came from senior Teneka Whittaker, who played the final home game of her career. “Coach has the utmost confidence in me and everyone on the team and I know that, so I got in the game, I saw a couple open shots and I took them and I hit them,” she said.
URI came into the second half leading 38-21, the most points scored in a half for them this season. A premature shift in their defense would allow the Billikens to cut the gap back to six points going into the final 10 minutes. The Rams readjusted, however, and closed out Saint Louis.
Looking at the game from her perspective as a senior, as well as her impressive performance and career-best 16 points and eight rebounds, Whittaker said “today was definitely an emotional day for me…it’s weird to think I’ll never play in the Ryan Center again but I’ve owed a lot to this gym, it means a lot to me to go out and win.”
“They’ve been very supportive, they’ve bought into everything and as a result everyone else on the team followed their lead,” La-Force said of the senior class. “I’m very thankful to them for giving me this opportunity to coach them, they’ve been great and this is just the beginning for us in terms of our relationship. It’s just the beginning of being a part of our family”
Rhode Island plays its final regular season game today against the University of Massachusetts at 2 p.m.