GW defense smoothes over a rough shooting performance

While neither team shot particularly well in the Colonials’ 58-41 win over conference rival Massachusetts Friday night at the Smith Center, it was GW’s strong defense that made the difference. The defense forced 25 turnovers for easy transition baskets and held UMass’ Kathy Coyner to just six points.

Despite guards Kristeena Alexander and Corrin Reid combining for 25 points and eight assists, the rest of the offense shot a dismal 41 percent (22-for-54). Defense saved the Colonials. When asked after the game what advice he gave the team after the women shot 37 percent (11-for-29) in the first half, GW coach Joe McKeown joked, “play defense.”

The women followed McKeown’s advice, as the Colonials (18-8, 12-2 Atlantic 10) forced 14 steals and held the Minutewomen to 32 percent shooting (15-for-47). Coyner repeatedly drove the lane but missed lay-ups or passed the ball with the swarming GW defense in her face. Early on, UMass (11-13,6-7 A-10) changed strategies and gave the ball to forward Amber Sneed, who finished with a team-high 15 points scoring on mostly 15- to 18-foot jumpers.

Under the rim, GW freshman Ugo Oha stumped UMass’s 6-3 center Jen Butler, the team’s leading scorer. Butler was held below her scoring average, finishing with 11 points.

GW’s Reid played outstanding defense off the bench. Reid has not started this season. Her role is confined to the bench where she is called on to give the team a spark.

“I don’t really care about points or stats or box scores or whatever,” Reid said. “Because I know if I come out into the game and have a deflection here that leads to a steal there, or maybe get a rebound, or an assist, I know my team is gonna benefit.”

McKeown has repeatedly called Reid the team’s “unsung hero.”

“If there’ ever been an unsung hero, it’s been Corrin Reid,” he said. “She’s bailed us out of big games. It takes a lot of pride to accept a role like (that).”

On offense, both teams missed open shots. But there was never a point when GW did not dominate the game. Alexander and Oha were an efficient combination. Alexander was both a scoring threat, sinking 40 percent of her shots for 15 points, and a passing threat, often dishing low to Oha, who scored 12 points.

“When she gets stronger, and we open that new building across the street, you give her six months in the weight room, she’s gonna get a breakaway and throw one down,” McKeown said of the 6-4 Oha.

The Colonials scored first and never trailed. Elena Vishniakova hit a short jumper. Midway through the first half, the Colonials jumped to a 15-6 lead. Reid capped the run with a steal on UMass’s Paige Harris. Reid ran the break, pulled up and hit a three-pointer that excited the 2,243 Smith Center fans.

“We’re a great team when we get in transition,” Reid said. “If we can get steals and loose balls and get on the defense glass, we’re awesome. I don’t think anybody can beat us in our conference because of our size and speed.”

Alexander followed that play with some flash a couple minutes later. She picked a loose ball off the ground at the GW end, ran the length of the floor cutting past two UMass defenders and scored on an awkward lay-up giving GW a 23-17 lead.

UMass surged late in the first half with a three-pointer by Sneed, but UMass could not get closer than four points as the Colonials took a 29-23 lead into half time.

The Colonials had an easier second half on both ends. Their shooting improved from 38 percent to 44 percent, and their defense cut UMass’s shot percentage to just 23 percent from the floor. The Colonials held UMass to 18 points in the half.

Reid scored seven of her 10 points in the opening minutes of the second half. She had two easy lay-ups and a three-pointer.

With the win, the Colonials maintained second place in the A-10 behind Xavier (23-2, 13-1 A-10). GW is a game back of the Musketeers and will host St. Bonaventure in its second-to-last regular-season game Thursday night. The contest will be the first meeting of the season for the two teams.

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