Historic season comes to a close for women’s basketball in WNIT Super Sixteen

Anaelle Dutat recorded four points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in 31 minutes off the bench in Thursday’s loss. PHOTO CREDIT: gorhody.com

The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball teams traveled to Cambridge on Thursday for their first-ever Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) Super Sixteen appearance, where a loss against Harvard officially brought their season to a close.

Rhode Island returned to Lavietes Pavilion for the first time in 136 days, having lost their season opener to the Crimson on Nov. 7, an 88-74 defeat. The loss was one of only four regular season losses for URI, who went on to post their best regular season in program history.

Harvard came into this game on a red-hot scoring streak, averaging 96 points per game through their first two WNIT games. Both teams had faced Atlantic 10 opponents in the second round, with Harvard coming off a win vs. A-10 co-champion, University of Massachusetts. On the other end, URI bested in-conference foes Richmond, 74-64, in their second round matchup at the Ryan Center.

Both teams got off the mark early, but it was the Crimson who showcased their offensive firepower in the opening minutes. They took the lead early in the first quarter and never looked back, leading Rhode Island 17-15 at the first media timeout with just over four minutes to play.

Harvard sank six of their first 10 field goals to take the lead, including two of three from distance, but URI were able to keep up in the early stages. The Crimson led by as much as eight points in the first quarter, but the lead didn’t last long. With 3:45 to go in the quarter, Madison Hattix-Covington rose above two defenders to power the rebound home off of a missed Mayé Touré three-point effort, eventually completing the three-point possession from the line to bring the deficit back down to one.

URI would take their first lead since the opening possession with just 1:30 left to go in the first 10 minutes, as Tennin Magassa’s mid-range jumper gave the Rams the go-ahead bucket. The Rams would go on to extend the lead through a Sophie Phillips three-pointer, before going into the break with a 24-19 lead courtesy of an Ines Debroise free-throw.

Sophie Phillips led all players after the first 10 minutes with 11 points, the only player in double digits for either team. 

The visitors picked up where they left off in the beginning of the second quarter, connecting on four straight field goals to complete a 9-0 run, extending their largest lead of the night to 33-22 and forcing a Harvard timeout.

Through the next four minutes, URI’s defense held Harvard to just one of their next 14 field goal attempts, holding the home side to an 11-point deficit. Harvard would eventually break the scoring streak with a pair of layups from Harmoni Turner and Maggy McCarthy to bring the game to 35-28 with just over 3:30 left in the half.

That would be enough to re-ignite the Harvard offense, who capped off a 9-0 run with a Katie Krupa layup to end the half. The run brought the lead to just two points, as URI went into the break with a narrow 39-37 lead.

Mayé Touré would get the Rams started in the second half, putting away the layup and draining the resulting and-one shot. The Crimson would knot the game at 42 minutes later, until a Hattix-Covington shot from range re-established a three-point lead for the Rams. 

A back-and-forth quarter continued as Harvard once again tied the game at 46 with six minutes to go. Each team missed opportunities to take the lead through the next minute, until Phillips drained a wide-open three from the right corner off of a Sayawni Lassiter assist to give Rhode Island the 49-46 lead.

Eventually, with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter, Harvard took their first lead since the end of the first quarter through a Elena Rodriguez layup that made it a 52-51 game. The lead did not last long, as Phillips drained her fifth three-pointer of the night just seconds later to make it 52-54 URI. Soon after, Tenin Magassa swatted away the potential game-tying layup with just nine seconds to go in the quarter, and the Rams entered the final 10 minutes with the narrow two-point lead.

Both teams went scoreless through the first four minutes of the final period, shooting a combined 0-11 from the field before a Mayé Touré layup gave the Rams a 56-52 lead with just over five minutes to go. Lola Mullaney ran down the other end with an instant response just seconds later, however, cutting the deficit back down to one. 

Harvard then surged back to life, as a Forbes three point shot and Rodriguez layup would give the Crimson a 60-56 lead following a pair of Lassiter free-throw misses with just under five minutes to play.

It was only Harvard’s third lead of the game, and second of the half, but it was enough. Krupa’s three-pointer with 2:38 remaining would cap off a 5-0 run for the Crimson to give them the 65-58 lead, before Rodirguez took advantage of a Lassiter turnover to deliver the killer blow, putting away the fastbreak layup to extend the Crimson’s lead to 67-60.

From there, URI had to resort to playing the foul game with under a minute to go, and were unable to claw their way back. Harvard eventually came away with the 74-63 win, ending a historic season for Rhode Island.

According to head coach Tammi Reiss, a lack of execution in the fourth quarter is what led to the Rams eventual downfall against the Crimson, something which she said will serve as a lesson to her younger players. 

“This fourth quarter, I hope it sits with them for a very long time,” Reiss said. “Today, I think we’re gonna learn from this, and I think it’s gonna end up being a win for us. And that’s how we looked at it in the locker room. It was positive.”

Despite the loss, Reiss remained positive about the season in terms of the program’s future, citing the immense progress her team has made in the last four seasons.

“This postseason for us was key…we’ve had a lot of firsts,” Reiss said. “That’s momentum. You build on that…We got better this year. We’re farther along in our process. We didn’t digress, we didn’t regress, and now we build for next year.”

For Tammi Reiss and her squad, the focus will now turn to the offseason, in preparation for the beginning of the 2023-24 season in November, where the search for the program’s first A-10 title will continue.