Women’s basketball guard breaks out, sets records in second year

Second-year Sophie Phillips has a chance for a historical season. PHOTO CREDIT: Connor Zisk | Staff Photographer

It is easy to see that the University of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball team is winning a lot this year. But looking closer displays a strong offensive output from second-year Sophie Phillips throughout.

With under a minute remaining in the game on Sunday, the University of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball team was knotted up at 55-55 with St. Joseph’s. The two teams battled each other until double overtime back on Feb. 1, where Rhode Island escaped victorious. However, this game would not extend past regulation time.

With under five seconds showing on the clock, Sophie Phillips pulled up for a last second heave from three point territory with defending hands in her face. With one second left, the ball sank through the hoop, erupting the away bench and securing a 58-55 win for the Rams.

This shot is not new for Phillips, as she is a top three point shooter in the Atlantic 10. She shoots 40.1% from three, ranking second in the conference, and her 2.1 three pointers made per game ranks seventh.

Phillips has been placing excellent numbers on the stat sheets all season long, but if you watched her play last year, you would not even see the same player. Phillips only played 31 minutes last season, only recording eight points. This year she exceeded everyone’s expectations, even her own coach’s.

 “I was as surprised as anyone when she came back,” said Head Coach Tammi Reiss.

However, Reiss has seen extensive progress in two specific areas of her game on the offensive end.

“Number one, her aggressiveness towards wanting to score, and then number two, her ability to make contested threes,” Reiss said. “It really was surprising, and from day one she came back ready.” 

Despite her coach’s surprise, Phillips was not shocked at all. She stated that she believed that the ability to play like this was in her all along, she just needed to unlock it.

“I know I’m a capable three point shooter, I know that’s just what I do,” Phillips said. “I just have to keep my confidence up, and that’s how I’ve gotten to this point.” 

The confidence has been showcased so far this season. Phillips never fears a shot attempt from beyond the arc, leading the team with 147 this year. The next highest total is third-year Dolly Cairns’ 93.

The high three point barrage has paid off in the record books for Phillips, and has helped the team break records, catapulting her towards the top of the rankings in her own right. Phillips’ last-second three against St. Josephs gave the 2022-23 Rams the sole lead for three pointers made in a season with 209.

Phillips also has a chance to have a historical season of her own. Currently, if Phillips does not shoot another three pointer the rest of the year she will place fifth in three point percentage in a single season in Rhode Island women’s basketball history. However, she is also 1.9% away from first place, with a chance to overtake Tasha King’s 1995-96 season, when she shot 42%.

Rhode Island has multiple players who can shoot the three point ball. Fifth-year Sayawini Lassiter, Cairns and Phillips all shoot above 35%, and have proven to knock down big shots in crunch time. 

This is an entirely new offensive approach from Rhode Island. Last year they shot the ball 441 times from beyond the arc, and this year that number has jumped to 584 with the season still ongoing.

This change had to do with the absence of interior scoring that the Rams had last year, losing Emmanuel Tahane and Marie-Paule Foppossi who both averaged over 10 points per game. Reiss recognized the change in offensive capabilities, stating that her team’s ability to adapt plays as one of their biggest strengths.

“We’ve changed our complete playbook this year,” said Reiss. “I think we’ve adapted to fit the three point shooting we’ve added. When you have Emma [Squires], you have Sophie [Phillips], you have Dolly [Cairns], and you have Emmi [Rinat], you’ve got three point shooters now. We’ve put stuff in that really plays to our team’s strengths so I think it’s helped Sophie and all of our three point shooters tremendously.”

Phillips agreed with this statement, as she felt that losing Thahane and Foppossi was a loss to the offense, but not an insurmountable one given the different capabilities of the perimeter shooters.

“It was a huge loss, losing all of those paint points from last year, but being able to have so many threats from outside has obviously made it hard for teams to defend against us, so then we can punch it in to Mayé [Touré],” said Phillips.

Sophie has also been an unsung defensive hero this year. Her 15 blocks ranks second on the team, with almost all of them occurring along the perimeter. Reiss aquaits this to opponents not expecting it from a guard like Sophie.

“Her length is very deceiving as a guard,” said Reiss. “She is a really good defender. She may not be the strongest, when they attack her in the paint, but her skills guarding the ball and really defending three point shooters this season has really increased this year.”

With the huge jump this year and performances fans have seen from her, it is often forgotten that she is only a second-year student. However, Reiss does not see this year as a peak for her.

“Sophie Phillips’ ceiling as a player is unlimited,” said Reiss.

The Rams’ will continue to try and use their three point success to make a postseason push in the coming weeks, with games against Fordham and Dayton remaining. This push will be led by none other than Sophie Phillips.