The Rams gather before the game; freshman Anisha Wilson
The Playbook is an occasional series on University of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball team and head coach Cathy Inglese as she works to turn around a losing program. See most recent prior entry here.
By Laura Pappano
When Coach Cathy Inglese called a time out with 10:32 left in the second half, the Rams were down by one, trailing St. Bonaventure, 40-39. The music system at the Ryan Center pumped out up-beat lyrics, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fuh-uhnn!!” and it looked like there could be some celebrating when this was over. Celebrating because winning could let the Rams squeeze into post-season play in the Atlantic 10 tournament (only the top 12 go and they were in a three-way tie for that last spot).
Inglese, with all her intensity (it’s not clear why she has a seat in the sideline because she is pacing, calling, shouting, cajoling her players or the refs) draws plays on her clipboard, reminds them to hang tough, but warns – ineffectually, it turns out – “no more fouls!”
The fouls have been killing them. Every other minute, it seems, there is a Bonaventure player at the foul line, especially No. 5 Dana Mitchell ( she shot 12 of 13 from the free throw line). When it’s all over the stats show that the Ram got four shots (made 3) and St. Bonaventure had 30 shots (making 25) from the foul line.
For a tightly fought game that ended 63-53, that is a massive mis-match in free throws. Rhode Island fans, (including Inglese’s younger sister) let the refs hear their displeasure: “Call it at BOTH ENDS!!!” Was it unfair? Should Apolo Anton Ohno have been disqualified in the 500m short track event? Hard to know, given how aggressively both teams battled at both ends of the court.
This is DI basketball and things happen – or don’t happen. The Rams lost. Their season ended. But what was striking about the game, coming as it did slapped as the finale on a 11-game losing streak, was that if you hadn’t known of their struggles, you would never have guessed.
They played at times brilliantly – sharp, intuitive passes, steals, speedy Anisha Wilson tearing down the court or scrappy Lara Gaspar leaping up and twisting in all kinds of traffic to float the ball through the hoop (she scored 22 points).
Later, after her team slipped on warm-ups and ducked out beneath the blue and white streamers and balloons hung optimistically over the locker room entrance, Inglese would push aside her frustration – and when you are building a program there is plenty of that – to give her team credit. Yes, there were problems, including “a lack of consistency, a lack of urgency” and the need to say “the same thing four times.”
“They have battled hard,” said Inglese. “This team has learned to compete. They have lost – how many games in a row? – and every game they come out and they are here to compete.”
The year has ended with a 9-20 record, which is at the high end of what Inglese expected. “I thought we could win 0-10 games this year,” she said.
Winning DI teams aren’t built overnight, but assistant coaches Megan Lanham and Ashley Earley are already talking about next year and the four new recruits: Kerry Wallach (CT); Kiley Hackbarth (IL); Shikkirrie (RiRi for short) Turpin (FLA); and Emilie Cloutier (Quebec).
Lanham and Earley tick through each player’s qualities. Wallach is a 3-4 player who is a “workhorse,” a “competitor” who “will get the top of the rim.” Hackbarth is a point guard, a “spark plug” with great ball-handling skills and, says, Lanham, “one of the best work ethics I have ever been around.” Turpin, says Earley, “is going to rebound for us,” she is also “explosive offensively.” And Cloutier, both predict, “will be the most athletic on the team” with great vertical ability.
Why did they like so much about these four? “All of these kids are used to winning,” says Earley. “That was our deal with these kids,” says Lanham, “hard-working competitive kids that are used to winning.”
Junior captain Megan Shoniker slaps hands during pre-game introductions