MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — A pair of blazing starts in each half along gave the Williams women's basketball team enough of a cushion to cruise to a dominant 59-39 victory over New England Small College Athletic Conference and Little Three foe Wesleyan University on Saturday.
The Ephs improved to 7-1 with their second straight win by at least 20 points while the Cardinals saw their four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 6-2 to complete their fall schedule. The game did not count towards the conference standings, and the two teams will meet again a month from now in Williamstown to play one that will count towards the NESCAC standings.
"This was our best performance of the fall semester," said Williams coach Pat Manning after the game.
Both teams seemed a bit anxious in the opening moments as turnovers and fast breaks abounded, but the frenetic pace did not slow down the Eph shooters one bit. Claire Baecher opened the scoring for Williams by banking in a perimeter pass from Kellie Macdonald to get things rolling. Ninety seconds later, Ellen Cook knocked down a hurried three-point attempt as the shot clock expired to make it 5-0, then stole the ball on the ensuing Wesleyan possession and started a Williams transition attack that ended with a great drive-and-dish from Macdonald to Rainer, who easily knocked down the baseline jumper to stretch the lead to seven and prompt a perturbed Kate Mullen to call the game's first timeout less than 2:30 in.
But the stoppage seemed to have little effect, and the lead was soon 11-0 after Baecher found Rainer with a great lob in the paint for another simple finish, forcing Mullen to call another timeout in an effort to slow down the Ephs. Overall, Williams made five of its first seven shots from the field while playing its usual brand of energetic and height-driven one-on-one defense.
Mullen's second timeout seemed to have more of an effect, as the Cardinals finally got on the board courtesy of a solid drive and lay-in from freshman Jackie Browne (sister of Williams senior guard Stephanie Browne) and eventually cut the deficit all the way down to three at 19-16 when Kelly Ann Rooney found Jess Cherenza on one of the Cardinals' few fast breaks and Cherkira Lashley made one of two free throws following a Macdonald turnover.
With the crowd and the momentum on their side, the Cardinals seemed poise to overrun the Ephs and make it a tight contest the rest of the way.
But Baecher and Rainer had other plans.
On an afternoon when the Ephs' normally precise perimeter shooters went just 4-of-15, Baecher and Rainer more than made up the difference in the paint on both sides of the ball. In the first half, it was Baecher who did most of the scoring of the pair, as she used her 6'3" frame to box out a great inbounds pass from Macdonald to restore the Eph lead to 21-16 before catching and releasing a long pass from Cook all while in midair to restore the Williams lead to 10, which Rainer then pushed to 12 before the break.
"We really talked about getting inside at halftime," Manning said. "Wesleyan was doing a good job defending on the perimeter and we weren't shooting well from there, so our goal was to get the ball inside instead."
The plan worked to perfection right from the get-go in the second half, as the Ephs raced out to a 25-point lead in the first 7:30 of play to effectively seal the outcome.
Defensively, Baecher and Rainer anchored another strong effort from a defense that conceded less than 40 points for the fourth time in eight games this season. The pair combined for 15 defensive rebounds (10 for Rainer) and eight blocks, many of which resulted in possession swinging towards the Ephs.
Overall, the two combined for 37 points on phenomenal 16-for-19 shooting, including a perfect 8-for-8 ledger for Rainer, who also chalked up 14 rebounds for a double-double. The Ephs also got strong efforts from Harding, who chipped in with nine points, and Grace Rehnquist, who struggled with her shot for much of the game before making a pair of threes from well beyond the arc to ice it for the Ephs.
Browne and Dreisen Heath led the way for Wesleyan with 10 points each, while Miller Hartsoe added nine in just 12 minutes of playing time.
Both squads will now take a few weeks off before resuming play after the holidays. The Ephs will take on Wisconsin-Lutheran in Whittier, Calif., on Dec. 29, while the Cardinals will remain at home to face Colby-Sawyer two days later.