When Mike Bozeman spoke to reporters during his program’s annual media day in November, he never envisioned his team would be running on fumes four weeks before the end of regular season play.
Rather, with an abundance of size and talent that translated into depth at every position, Bozeman hoped his deep repertoire of skilled players would be winning games consistently. Maybe, he thought, the Colonials would even sit among the upper echelon of A-10 teams in the conference standings.
But then, the Colonials were felled by a foe that’s challenged the team for the past three seasons: a roster rapidly shrinking as one-by-one, its players fall prey to injury.
“There was a lot of cause for us to be excited, to really think that this was the year that we could turn the corner and start heading back toward where the GW community is used to seeing the GW basketball team,” Bozeman said.
Over the past eight weeks, GW has been reduced to just six available players, an impediment that has forced Bozeman to reevaluate the offensive and defensive strategies he worked all summer to create. The first major blow to the Colonials, Bozeman said, came when senior center Sara Mostafa fractured her hand before GW’s game against Georgetown Dec. 11.
Mostafa, the 6-foot-5 low-post presence for the Colonials, was the centerpiece of Bozeman’s newly-constructed offense. As Bozeman explained, Mostafa played her best games last year when she faced man-to-man defense, and as a result, he built and implemented an offense this year that attempted to evoke one-on-one defending from the opposition.
When Mostafa was sidelined with an injury, Bozeman knew the offense he had created around her was no longer going to be sustainable in her absence. It was back to the drawing board for the Colonials coaching staff.
“As opposed to having an offense with a low-post and slot-post, I had to change it to use the short corners and those kind of things,” Bozeman said.
But, Mostafa’s absence didn’t make Bozeman panic. The Colonials still possessed a high level of athleticism and their continued ability to “run and jump” on the defensive side made it difficult for teams to score. In mid-January, the Colonials even ranked as high as third in the A-10 in three-point field goal defense.
But then sophomore forward Chelisa Painter and senior guard Kristin Aldridge went down with a sprained ankle and concussion, respectively. And it was clear GW was not going to be able to play to its full potential on either side of the ball. GW’s commanding press defense, the Colonials’ main defensive scheme and one that requires a high-energy output sustained through a steady rotation of players, can no longer function with a dwindling bench.
“It was like, wow, I have a freshman point guard playing now. It just started to change as the numbers started going down. And it’s weird, because they’re not all the same type of injuries,” Bozeman said. “If they were all knees, we could have investigated what was going on in practice. But no, these injuries are all different types of things.”
Though the Colonials have endured a roller coaster of a ride this season and seasons past, for Bozeman, he said it is particularly important to turn the team’s setbacks into a learning experience for his players.
“I have to show them that I can withstand this kind of adversity, because in life, you’re going to have this kind of adversity. I always preach about how basketball and sports in general mirror life – the ups and downs of it, the perseverance you have to have, the hard work that produces the results that you want, the quick decisions, the right decisions, etc.,” Bozeman said.
The season, he adds, isn’t over yet. There are still seven games left in conference play for the Colonials – plenty of time for GW to improve on its (3-4) conference record.
Junior guard Danni Jackson is confident that, although the team has struggled as of late with injuries and resulting depth problems, the high-intensity and unyielding brand of GW basketball has not faltered in the slightest.
“We’re still that same team we talked about on media day. We’re really fighting right now,” Jackson said. “As long as we just do what we’re capable of and have fun, I think we’re fine."
After watching film on Tuesday morning, Bozeman said to be successful in the Saturday’s game against A-10 rival St. Bonaventure, – a team undefeated in conference play – the Colonials will have to really hone in on execution.
Finding a way to minimize mental errors will not only serve the Colonials well this week against the Bonnies, he said, but also in the rest of the season’s games.
“Execution of the system has to be close to flawless when you’re that low in numbers. You don’t have room for mistakes. You don’t have the room for fouls,” Bozeman said. “We have to be disciplined to our system.”