After its best week of the season, William and Mary’s Debbie Taylor believes that her team has pulled out of the slog that marked the first two-plus months.
“I think we were due,” Taylor said. “We talked early in the season with this team about confidence. We started out and lost some close ones, and even when we started conference play, we lost the first one by three and the second one in overtime.”
Taylor’s recollection was almost correct. The Tribe (4-14, 2-5 CAA) lost the conference opener to Hofstra by three and the third game, at Northeastern, in OT. The second was a 61-52 loss to UNCW, a faceplant in which W&M led by 14 with 14 minutes remaining.
Eight of W&M’s 14 losses were by seven points or less. An 81-70 loss to Winthrop was a two-point game with 6½ minutes remaining. A 58-46 loss to Drexel was a three-point game at halftime. Prior to Towson, the Tribe had just one win against a Division I program.
“When you lose close games consistently, you tend to lose your confidence,” Taylor said. “But it’s also been a battle for us this year to find a steady point guard and that doesn’t help much. I think we have the point guard play resolved and we’re getting contributions from a lot of different kids, but it’s really gaining confidence. We have the players. We just have to finish games.”
The Tribe did so versus both Towson and ODU. W&M built a 15-point second-half lead versus Towson, which never got closer than six. Against the Lady Monarchs, W&M made 18 of 27 shots in the second half and ODU missed its final five shots and committed a turnover at the end of regulation.
ODU coach Karen Barefoot lamented to Pilot snoop Sean Morrison that her team allowed William and Mary to dictate tempo. But the bottom line is that W&M has won two in a row against a program to which it had lost 52 straight dating back to 1975-76.
“I think the kids have a great vibe,” Taylor said. “Every win for us is invaluable, and to win two in a row is big. Especially ODU, you know what a big game that is for us.”
Curiously, the Tribe thrived with leading scorer and rebounder Emily Correal logging just 12 minutes and scoring two points. Janine Aldridge led the Tribe with 26 points, on 11 of 15 shooting. Wing Kaitlyn Mathieu, who averages 5.4 points per game, contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Correal had no injuries or issues, Taylor said. The lineup she employed was simply more effective. W&M’s bench scored 20 points, and the Tribe notably outscored ODU in fast-break points 26-11.
“That’s what’s unique about our team,” Taylor said. “We have so many different kids who can play.”
Taylor said she believed the seeds for last week were planted in the loss to Drexel, a week ago Sunday. W&M didn’t play well offensively, but defended and rebounded reasonably well – two problem areas for the past several years.
The Tribe fields a veteran team — five seniors and a junior among the top eight — with more height than athleticism. As a result, Taylor plays a lot of zone defense and zone variations in order to keep her best backline players on the floor and so that they don’t have to chase smaller and quicker opposing wings.
“We have less to prepare for, which I really like,” Taylor said. “We spend more time focusing on us and less time focusing on our opponent, because so many people have a limited arsenal against a zone. “
After winning a total of five CAA games the previous two seasons, she hopes that the team has turned the corner heading into the final month of the season.
“I think a lot of effort is almost stifled by your lack of confidence, so you just don’t play hard,” Taylor said. “I think in the last two games, we’ve gotten out and we’ve played to win. To be honest, sometimes we’re not battling the opponent, we’re battling ourselves. As psychological as that is, it’s kind of the way we play. There have been very few teams I feel that actually beat us. I think we’ve beaten ourselves so many times. It’s been nice the last two games to see a team that just comes out and plays from start to finish.”