When the injury bug bit the women’s basketball team early in the season, the Colonials weren’t quite ready for it. With as many as five players sitting on the bench in sweats, other players were forced to play through nagging injuries that they otherwise would have been able to keep off of, while the few healthy bodies GW still had racked up minutes faster than head coach Mike Bozeman would have liked.
The toll the injuries took on the team was obvious in its record. Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 29, the Colonials lost 11 straight games and were tied for dead last in the conference after opening Atlantic 10 play 0-6.
But since winning their first A-10 game of the season a week and a half ago, the tide has turned for the team, which beat Massachusetts 62-46 Saturday for its third win in its last four games. The injury situation hasn’t changed much for GW (8-16, 3-7 A-10), with four players sitting on the bench Saturday against the Minutewomen. Instead, head coach Mike Bozeman said, it’s been his players that have changed, adjusting to the grind of playing on a team with a short bench.
“I thought that was more of a complete game that we’re shooting for. I think we’re getting a lot done in practice with understanding on how it’s best for us to play and I think the girls are doing a great job of executing that,” Bozeman said. “I think the mental toughness category, which concerned me the most early in the season, I think we’ve made a long stride towards getting a lot better in that area.”
Three players played 35 minutes or more Saturday against UMass, and all but one played at least 15 minutes. Sophomore guard Danni Jackson tied for the team lead in points Saturday with 16 in her 37 minutes of action against the Minutewomen. Junior guard Tara Booker, who has dealt with lingering injuries for much of the season after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury, recorded her fourth career double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a team-record 38 minutes.
“There’s no way she was supposed to play 38 minutes. We were wondering if she was gonna get through shoot around, and she played 38 minutes,” Bozeman said of Booker. “And it’s not just her. She’s an example. Danni is nursing some injuries and Tiana Myers is nursing injuries. Ivy Abiona, we had to give her yesterday’s practice off.”
Booker has been one of the Colonials’ more consistent scorers this season, putting up double-digit points in four of GW’s last six contests, despite dealing with less-than-cooperative knees.
“A big part of the end of the season is about playing through it right now for me,” Booker said. “I sat all season last year, I don’t want to sit out anything else right now. I’m just getting used to playing through some pain.”
Booker and her teammates also got a boost from the crowd early in the second half, when Bozeman, unhappy with some foul calls that had gone against his team, pumped up the crowd by waving his hands in the air, eliciting some of the loudest cheers of the day for GW.
“I just thought that, we’re at home, and we got those kind of calls that went against us. And they’re kind of tough calls, I don’t want to say they were bad calls. They were tough calls, that’s about as far as I’ll go with it,” Bozeman said. “I just felt like the team could use a little adrenaline from the crowd, and sometimes it feels like the crowd kind of forgets that we’re the home team. So I just wanted to pump us up. I was pumped up, and that was my way of expressing my frustration with the referees… I thought it pumped the team up, I thought it gave us a good lift right there, so I appreciate the hometown crowd. They really helped us out in that stretch.”
Bozeman and the Colonials will take their newfound momentum into one of the toughest stretches of GW’s schedule, during which it will face two of the top teams in the A-10 over the final four conference games of the season. His team likely won’t be healthy for the remainder of the season, but Bozeman said he feels like his team is headed in the right direction as it moves into a crucial stretch.
“I’m just impressed, and pretty much touched, by all the effort that my team is giving me right now, and I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Bozeman said. “I’ll go to battle with these girls night in, night out anytime, any day of the week.”
GW will be back in action Wednesday night at the Smith Center against undefeated-in-conference Temple. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.