There are games when teams struggle to find the basket, during which offensively players are unable to connect with the court, but the women’s team had no such trouble Sunday, and the game successfully clicked as soon as play began.
The Colonials experienced that Sunday in the Lone Star State, capturing a commanding 63-41 victory in their season opener against The University of Texas at Arlington.
With solid and consistent play on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, GW put the first points on the board and refused to yield the lead as the game progressed. Holding their opponent to just 30.6-percent shooting from the floor while shooting 43.6 percent on their own, the Colonials denied the Mavericks any room to take on the team effecitvly.
“We have been working very hard, and I can see the progress. It doesn’t surprise me that we played like this,” head coach Mike Bozeman said. “We still have some growth to go. Yeah, we want to win every game, but we didn’t prepare as hard as we prepared just to beat Texas Arlington.”
Senior guard Tara Booker led GW’s charge from start, knocking down three treys in the first 10 minutes, adding to a total of 13 first-half points, along with seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals on the game.
After missing last Tuesday’s exhibition game against the University of the District of Columbia, senior center Sara Mostafa and senior guard Tiana Myers returned to the lineup, allowing Bozeman to experiment with all of his major offensive weapons. Whereas a relatively large percentage of the Colonials’ points in the exhibition came from beyond the arc, the addition of Mostafa allowed GW to attack the paint much more aggressively at Arlington.
The Colonials success on offense was matched by explosive play on the defensive side of the ball. GW trapped the Mavericks in a half court press and forcing four turnovers alone in the first eight minutes of play. Seven out of the eight Colonials who saw more than a minute of play in the first half recorded at least one steal. Along with her one steal, junior guard Danni Jackson also forced three turnovers in the first half, indicative of her strong desire to improve defensively this year.
Along with keeping the Mavericks’ points at a minimum, GW’s strong defensive play also translated into 10 fast break points on the other end of the court.
“Every good team has to figure out their strengths and I think that we’re going to be a pretty good defensive team,” said Bozeman. “We were switching back and forth from man to zone, and the girls were very focused with that.”
Bozeman went to the bench often in the first half, and the Mavericks had trouble finding holes in the GW defense as it switched back and forth in its styles.
Jackson took over the point in the second half, despite Bozeman’s strategy to have her play more time on the shooting guard position this year. Though she only scored a surprising two points that night, Bozeman said Jackson played an integral role in the success of GW’s offense.
“I think tonight shows just how viable she is. With her moving back [to the one spot] hopefully just for this game, I think she ran the club very well,” said Bozeman. “I think the natural position for her is this one anyways, so I don’t think the adjustment was a big one.”
But where Booker was the star of the first half, Mostafa demonstrated her stardom in the second half, starting things off with an emphatic drive to the hole, drawing a foul and completing the three-point play. Her presence in the paint was too strong for the Mavericks to handle and despite experimenting with double teams, they were never able to find a remedy that could quell her scoring. Mostafa finished the night with an impressive game-high 21 points.
Junior forward Megan Nipe and redshirt junior forward Brooke Wilson added to the offensive effort, racking up four and five points respectively, but more importantly, facilitating crisp passing with Jackson, which allowed their teammates to find the net, most of the time without a defender anywhere in sight.
The high number of uncontested shots GW was able to take is what Bozeman said is a marker for his team’s offensive success.
“I think they really have an understanding of what we’re trying to get done,” said Bozeman. “The whole team has really put a lot of work in, and now it’s time for them to actually be able to showcase their skills.”
The Mavericks never found their stride on offense in the second half, and by the final minutes of the game, they resorted to desperate three-point attempts. The Colonials, easing up on offense but still playing solidly on defense, cruised by to win a defiant 63-41 victory.
As they head back to GW for their home opener next Friday against Morgan State, the Colonials have gained confidence in their ability to play at a high level.
“We might have won this game last year, but we wouldn’t have won it in the fashion we did tonight,” said Bozeman. “This win gives them confidence that we have the right system and that we have the capability of putting together long stretches of focused basketball. Of course, we’re not there yet, but this is a great win for them to build on.”