Mayé Touré recorded nine points and nine rebounds in the semifinal loss. PHOTO CREDIT: gorhody.com
Following their first-ever regular season title, the University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team traveled to Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware over the weekend for the A-10 tournament, progressing to the semifinals for the first time since 2003.
The Rams entered the tournament as the #2 seed, earning them a double-bye which automatically saw them through to Friday’s quarterfinals.
It was at this stage where Rhode Island would take on the George Washington Colonials, searching for their first postseason win in five attempts under head coach Tammi Reiss, and their first since 2016. The Rams had matched up with the Colonials once in the regular season, coming out 64-47 victors at The Ryan Center in early February.
Friday’s matchup was a heavily defensive battle between the two schools, as both teams shot a combined 11-1 from the floor in the opening four minutes. The Rams held the Colonials to 2-for-12 shooting from the floor in the first quarter, going on an 8-2 run to start the game. Faith Blethen eventually kickstarted the Colonials offense with a pair of three-point efforts that tied the score at eight with three minutes left in the first quarter, but it was the Rams who held the 13-8 advantage after 10 minutes.
The Rams would extend their lead to as much as 10 points in the second quarter, but the lead didn’t hold up for long, as a 9-0 run for George Washington trimmed the deficit back down to one. Rhode Island would respond with another 10-0 run of their own in the final minutes of the half, going into the break up 33-26.
URI would build up its lead to as much as 17 in the second half, but a 13-0 run from George Washington in the final six minutes saw them surge back, cutting the lead down to four with less than two minutes on the clock.
Despite the late scare, URI would take advantage of three trips to the free-throw line, doing just enough to hold off the Colonials for the 68-56 win.
“It’s been 20 years since we’ve made it to a semi-final, so to get that monkey off our backs felt pretty good today,” Reiss said following the win. “[I’m] really proud of how they kept their composure, made foul shots at the end, and no matter how you do it, you survive and advance. That’s what this group did.”
Third-year Mayé Touré also spoke on the team chemistry following the win.
“It’s really fun, I really love this team,” Touré said. “We play for each other.”
Rhode Island would move on to play St. Louis on Saturday in their first semifinal appearance since 2003. The Rams and the Billikens had faced off one other time in the regular season, with the Rams taking the 76-65 win in St. Louis.
It was a different story this time around. The Bilikens came out firing in the first half, holding Rhode Island to only 12% shooting from the field (2-for-17) in the first quarter, and 20% in the first half (7-for-35), only connecting on 4-for-17 from three point range. Meanwhile, St. Louis shot almost 44% in the first 20 minutes, building a lead as large as 21 points before going into halftime up 17, 41-24.
Rhode Island came out with a vengeance in the second half, as a pair of three-point shots from Dolly Cairns sparked an 8-2 run that forced an early St. Louis timeout. URI shot an improved 41% in the third quarter, holding the Billikens to only nine points. Fifth-year Sayawni Lassiter would hit a jump shot in the last minute of the quarter to bring the deficit to single digits for the first time since the first quarter, as the Rams trailed 41-50 with 10 minutes to play.
The fourth quarter saw the monumental comeback effort continue, as the Rams brought the deficit to as little as one point, but could never close the gap fully. With under a minute remaining, Lassiter missed the chance for a game-tying free throw with a 1-2 trip at the line. With 14.5 seconds on the clock, St. Louis’s Julia Martinez was fouled after intercepting Rhode Island’s inbound, going 2-2 from the line to put her team up by three.
Finally, in the last possession, Phillips’ last-second game-tying attempt from beyond the arc rattled off the rim, as the Rams fell 56-59.
It was a memorable comeback effort for the Rams, but a lackluster first-half performance was ultimately too much to overcome. Despite the result, Reiss was happy with her team’s performance.
“ [I am] really, really proud of my team for the way they fought back,” Reiss said. “Being down 21 [points], you can hang your head, you can duck, and they didn’t.”
Now, the Rams will await their postseason fate, with NCAA and WNIT selections set to be announced this weekend.