The Fairfield women’s basketball team suffered a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), losing 74-44 and ending their season and Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) championship aspirations.

The Stags never led, and fell behind by as many as 33 points in the second half. UIC’s Ruvanna Campbell, a redshirt sophomore, had 20 points in the first half and collected her 25th double-double of the season with 25 points and 17 rebounds. UIC shot 51 percent from the field (32 of 62) and held the Stags to 33 percent shooting (19 of 57), including 23 percent (7 of 30) in the second half.

What happened to cause such a breakdown in the Fairfield offense and defense? Senior Alexys Vasquez felt that UIC was just bigger and more physical than the Stags were, resulting in the loss. She pointed to the athleticism of the opposition being a major factor in the game, and lamented the fact that the Stags couldn’t get hot.

“They were very athletic; they were definitely bigger than us, that’s what gave us some trouble, not only defensively, but we just couldn’t score on the offensive end,” she said. “I know at one point we started off really cold and couldn’t hit anything, but then we started trading off baskets and they were pretty athletic, so it was hard to stop them.”

Junior Felicia DaCruz felt that UIC did a very good job of scouting the Stags, resulting in UIC being able to exploit their weaknesses.

“I think their post players did a really good job of going to work early inside and really keying in on their strengths as a team. I think they scouted us very well. We were just struggling defensively with communication,” said DaCruz. “I think we struggled defensively not just in the first half but in the second half too, that’s why there was such a large margin [between the two teams’ scores].”

When asked why the Stags were unable to get anything going against UIC’s defense, DaCruz responded that “they play a variety of defenses so that definitely threw us off, but we had prepared as well as we could have for the game.”

DaCruz added: “I felt like it just wasn’t our day. We had open shots, we had good looks at the basket, but we just weren’t finishing, and the shots that normally go in just weren’t going in.”

Most unfortunately, the inability of the Stags to get hot combined with the stifling defense of UIC spelled doom for any chances of an advance to the next round for Fairfield.

While the season’s ending can be thought of despairingly, it is also a time of celebration. The efforts of the seniors are remembered and the next batch of stars are prepared for their chance to shine. Although the team is losing five seniors to graduation, DaCruz feels that they will be able to come back better next year.

“We are losing a lot of players, including some good bench players, but it’s just a matter of how people are going to step up next year,” she said. “Two of our freshmen are going to be good for us and both of our transfers are going to be able to put in some good minutes for us.  I think our team dynamics are going to be much different next year, but we are going to be able to compete with a lot of teams. As long as we stay as a team and work together we should be okay.”

Echoing that sentiment, Vasquez feels that the team will be able to recover from the losses as long as they continue to work hard and get contributions from bench players.

“As long as they practice hard and everything, they will do fine. What we’ll need next year is people from the bench to step up and play their roles and they’ll be fine,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez, who set a new single-season record with 94 3-pointers, said she was proud of her team. She felt that nobody considered Fairfield as a threat to go far into the postseason, and was content to prove them wrong.

“Although we didn’t do as well as we wanted to in the MAAC [Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference] tournament, I think overall we had an excellent season,” said Vazquez. “Nobody was really expecting it from us. We really had no expectations in this season and from anybody else, so we just kind of did it for ourselves, and I think we’re all really happy with our outcome.  We made a great run in the postseason tournament, so we ended it off how we would like to.”

DaCruz feels similarly to Vasquez, and is proud of the team for defeating difficult conference opponents and having a good year.

“I feel like we had a really good season. A lot of people didn’t think we were going to do too well just because of how we did last season, but coming in third in our conference, beating Quinnipiac twice and Marist once and having close games both times with Iona,” said DaCruz.

DaCruz added: “We were right there, it was just a shame to have lost in the first round of the MAAC tournament.  Going to the WBI was such an honor, we played our best and tried our best throughout the WBI tournament and MAAC tournament so I was pretty happy with our season this year.”

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