Ta'Shia Phillips' 12 points, 15 rebounds lead Xavier

CINCINNATI -- Even when everything is a little off, No. 7 Xavier can always count on its front-line duo to do whatever it needs.

Center Ta'Shia Phillips had 12 points and 15 rebounds Saturday, dominating up front before she got into foul trouble, and forward Amber Harris scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half, helping Xavier pull away to a 67-45 victory over Rhode Island.

Xavier (17-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10) completed its third straight perfect January, winning all seven games. The Musketeers have won the last two regular-season titles, turning those perfect January starts into 13-1 and 14-0 finishes in A-10 play.

"At this time of year, it's really about us continuing to improve and really putting ourselves in the position where we can play close to 40 minutes doing the things that make us special," coach Kevin McGuff said. "We didn't have that in the first half, but I thought in the second half we came out and imposed our will."

The Musketeers broke the game open at the start of the second half by forcing turnovers and following Harris' lead.

Phillips had a double-double in the first half alone, when she single-handedly outrebounded the Rams 12-11. She picked up her fourth foul with 9:01 to go and played only 12 minutes in the second half.

After a sluggish start on offense, Xavier finally got going.

"We were really stagnant on offense," McGuff said. "We weren't cutting hard, moving the ball and playing with enough aggressiveness. Really in the first half, most of our offense came off Ta'Shia Phillips' offensive rebounds. She was terrific. In the second half, we were much better."

Lara Gaspar scored 22 for Rhode Island (6-14, 0-6), which fell behind 10-0 at the outset. The Rams were held under 50 points for the fourth time this season.

Guard Megan Shoniker, who leads the Rams at 19.7 points per game, was only 1 of 4 from the field in the first half for two points. She finished with 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Phillips dominated under the basket while Xavier pulled out to a 10-0 lead. The 6-foot-6 center had two putbacks, a free throw and a layup off a no-look pass from point guard Special Jennings.

"Coach McGuff told us we were going to have to be aggressive from the jump, and that's what we did," Phillips said.

Xavier's defense was dominant, too, holding the Rams to four missed shots and four turnovers on their first eight possessions.

Rhode Island packed in its defense, switched between a man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, and stayed in the game behind Gaspar, a 6-foot-1 forward who repeatedly scored from the baseline. She had 18 of Rhode Island's 24 points in the first half, going 6 of 9 from the field and 6 of 10 from the free-throw line.

Xavier led by as many as 15 in the half, which ended with the Musketeers ahead 36-24. Phillips had a double-double before halftime -- 12 points and 12 rebounds, one more than the Rams' team total.

Phillips picked up her third foul in the opening minutes of the second half. That's when Harris and Xavier's defense started making an impact. The Rams had only six turnovers in the first half despite Xavier's full-court pressure. They had seven in the opening minutes of the second half, helping the Musketeers pull away.

"We were just more aggressive in the second half," Harris said. "[McGuff] told us to get up and pressure them, and that's what we did."

Harris had a driving bank shot and got a rebound and drove the length of the floor for a layup during a 12-3 run that built the lead to 54-33. Xavier substituted liberally after getting up by 25.