The women’s basketball team started the NESCAC season on the wrong foot against Amherst, falling 30-71 to the perennially dominant Lord Jeffs. The Cardinals’ offense struggled to find their stroke all game, as they shot 20 percent from the field against a stingy Amherst defense.
“We kind of just couldn’t get anything going out there,” Maddie Bledsoe ’18 said. “It was just one of those days where nothing would fall. Amherst is a very strong defensive team and they just wouldn’t allow us to get in a rhythm.”
The Lord Jeffs, on the other hand, seemed like they had their rhythm from tip-off to the end of the game. Amherst came out firing on all cylinders, shooting 55 percent from the field and 6-12 from beyond the arc in the first half alone. Wes, for its part, struggled to find any answers defensively against Amherst.
“They’re a solid all-around team and don’t give you too many mistakes,” Bledsoe said. “Amherst has been a top team in the already strong NESCAC conference as they had an astounding 25-4 record last year, losing in the semi-finals of the NESCAC tournament to Bowdoin and then being eliminated in the semi-finals of the NCAA Sectional Tournament.”
The week wasn’t all bad for the Cards, who were able to bounce back against the University of St. Joseph with a 85-61 victory. They played a much cleaner game and seemed like they were able to find their rhythm offensively. The team shot 47 percent from the field, a huge improvement from their game against Amherst.
“We just felt very comfortable,” said Bledsoe. “We did a good job of moving the ball around and taking the right shot. We stayed patient and executed when we needed to.”
Brenna Diggins ’17 scored a game-high 25 points and had a very efficient shooting night, finishing 11-16 from the field in only 24 minutes of action. Diggins’ efficiency set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Cards were able to clean up the offensive drought they found themselves in earlier in the week. Kayla Bigelow ’18 contributed 15 points, and Maeve Vitale ’18 tacked on 17 more to the Cardinals total. Tara Berger ’19 also made a big impact on the defensive end, leading the team with 4 blocks and adding 10 points of her own.
Wesleyan’s defense has been its strong point so far this season, and it seems they haven’t lost their presence on the defense end of the court since last year. Captain Kaylie Williams ’16 had another all-around great performance, earning her first double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“Our defense has always been a main focus in practice,” Bledsoe said. “Coach has always put a lot of emphasis on defense and take[s] pride in it.”
The defensive intensity the Cards bring to the court has certainly helped them squeak out games. Although offense may be the prettier thing to watch for most teams, watching the Cards lock down teams as a unit has become a delight for Wes fans. They are not only a team with great individual defensive players, but work extremely well as a group. They always seem to know where their teammates are on the court and do a great job of communicating with each other to defend pick-and-roll offenses, the strategy normally employed by teams to beat good man-to-man defense. The Cards are averaging 3.5 blocks per game, about twice the amount of their opponents, who average 1.8 blocks when they go up against Wes. In the first four games, Wesleyan has a +4.8 rebounding margin against their opponents, making these small margins pay huge dividends in the tight games.
The team will travel to the Courtyard by Marriott Tournament this weekend, opening up against Anna Maria College on Friday. Anna Maria are 5-1 to start the season and looking to add to their three-game winning streak, while the Cards are looking build a winning streak of their own. Despite having lost to Amherst, Wesleyan currently sits in third place in NESCAC rankings, behind undefeated squads Amherst, Conn College, Tufts, and Williams. The team will have to continue its strong defensive play if it wishes to reach postseason play against such strong competition.