One game you are holding your opponents to 12 percent shooting, the next your opponent shoots 25 percent. One game you force 22 turnovers, the next 29. And one game you hold your opponent to a measly 23 points and the next game the opposition scores 44. Defense is what has separated the Rhode Island College women’s basketball team (14-2, 7-0 LEC) apart from the rest of the Little East Conference, and nearly everyone else they’ve seen so far.
“We have to give credit to our defense,” said RIC head coach Marcus Reilly. “We turn it up every night, forcing our opponents into taking low percentage shots.”
The Anchorwomen are riding an 11-game winning streak with their latest victims coming last week in a 69-23 drubbing over UMass Dartmouth (9-7, 2-5 LEC) and a 73-44 Saturday beat down of Plymouth State (2-13, 0-7 LEC).
On Saturday, versus Plymouth State, Kellie Walsh put PSU up 2-0 early before senior Stephanie Coro buried a jumper seconds later. Coro’s bucket ignited a 20-0 Anchorwomen run. Over that 6:55 span all five RIC starters contributed at least one field goal on offense and on defense forced six turnovers and pressured the Panthers into missing all seven shots they took.
Plymouth State’s Meghan Faretra hit a 3-pointer at the 11:22 mark to stop the bleeding at 20-5. RIC went on a mini-run from there, scoring the next seven points thanks to a Rachel Riley put-back lay-up, an Alexia Vega jumper and a Cynthia Gaudet three-point play to put RIC in front 27-5. The half ended with RIC leading 44-15 after senior Brittany Saccoccio found a seam in the Panther defense for an easy lay-up.
Starting the second stanza, Plymouth State matched RIC’s intensity as both teams traded baskets for the opening six minutes. RIC began the stretch the lead even more, with the largest lead of the afternoon coming when Cynthia Gaudet scored two of her game-high 17 points on a lay-up, increasing the lead to 67-31 with 8:02 remaining. Marcus Reilly’s bench, which scored 22 points on the day, took over after that. RIC won via the 73-44 final.
“With our bench, we try to prioritize giving it a group identity. It is critical to what we do and as a group we are starting to impress,” said Reilly.
Ultimately the Panthers had no answers for the Anchorwomen’s full-court press, which was crucial in forcing 29 Panther turnovers. The Anchorwomen offense only shot 32.3 percent (30-for-93), yet points ran wild due to out-rebounding the opposition 65-44. Their 29 offensive rebounds led to 37 RIC points. In the frontcourt, RIC bullied PSU for 36 points in the paint, led by double-double machine senior, Riley (10 point, 12 rebounds) and Courtney Burns (10 points, six rebounds). Coro ended with nine points and eight assists, and Ashley O’Dell chipped in with six points.
RIC now sits atop of the Little East Conference. One team with the ability to knock the Anchorwomen off their perch is defending champion Western Connecticut (13-4, 5-2). The two powerhouse programs will square off Tuesday night in a marquee match up.
“Against Western Connecticut we just have to continue to work hard. We just need to stick to our principles, rebound, and get better as a team,” said sophomore Alexia Vega, who had six points and six boards against Plymouth State.
RIC finishes off next week with a road game at Worcester State (8-9, 2-3 MASCAC) and Saturday’s Murray Center meeting with Eastern Connecticut (6-11, 2-5).