Over the course of this season, the Colonials have grown accustomed to grinding out close games, to earning victories the hard way, by sacrificing style for true grit, and comfortable wins for hard-fought thrillers.
But if the court was a canvas Sunday, GW painted it with unusual ease. The starters gelled in a way they haven’t all season, and the bench provided a crucial backdrop for the team to rely on in a moment’s notice.
Perhaps more than anything, the Colonials’ inaugural (11-12, 5-4) trouncing of Butler at the Smith Center showed that head coach Jonathan Tsipis’s players are beginning to understand their roles on floor. And as Tsipis noted, as players begin to fulfill their responsibilities, they learn to play an unselfish brand of basketball – the brand Tsipis prefers.
“I think that was our most complete game of the season,” Tsipis said. “And the stat I’m probably most proud of is how we shared the basketball today. That’s 23 assists on 30 made field goals.”
Coming off of two straight wins against La Salle and Richmond, the Colonials looked to extend their conference success against the Bulldogs before they take on Fordham this Wednesday. With confident shooting, dominant rebounding, and its typical tenacity on both sides of the ball, GW ran away with a 17-point lead, cruising to a painless 77-60 win.
On Butler’s first possession, sophomore guard Chakecia Miller wasted no time introducing herself to the Bulldogs’ point guard. Ripping away a steal in Butler’s backcourt, Miller dribbled twice and dropped in an effortless layup. And then, on the very next possession, she corralled a loose ball and flung it up court, setting up another easy Colonials’ bucket.
Miller, whose efforts on Sunday justified her role as GW’s turnover-causing machine, also shot well from the floor, hitting seven of 13 field goals and finishing with a game-high 18 points.
“I’m just trying to take on the personality of my coach. He’s really aggressive, and I want to be really aggressive and competitive as well,” Miller said. “So when I’m out there, if I see the ball I’m gonna get it.”
Nineteen total turnovers aside, GW established a balanced offensive attack in the first half that gradually picked up speed as time elapsed. After some passing miscues that resulted in Butler baskets on the other end, the Colonials settled down about ten minutes in. Graduate student forward Tara Booker and freshman guard Aaliyah Brown drained consecutive threes, giving GW an energy boost that lifted it to a six-point lead at halftime.
After only a few second-half possessions, the Colonials’ starters – and bench players alike – molded into a cohesive unit on the floor. GW improved on its 36.1 percent first-half field goal percentage by draining nine of its first 10 field goals in the second, ending the game with a 65.4 percent tally compared to Butler’s 38.5 percent mark over the same period of time.
“I’m so excited for the team,” Tsipis said. “I’m going to show a lot of emotion on the sideline, and I want them to play with that passion and that vigor.”
As the Colonials’ lead grew, from 11, then to 16, and eventually to 17 by the final horn, Butler’s confidence took a visible hit, symbolized not only by disapproving head shakes from its coaching staff, but also from the Bulldogs’ resorting to three-point shots and a full-court press before the second half even reached its midpoint. Getting stronger on both sides of the ball, the Colonials broke the Bulldogs’ press, poured on points in style, and eventually earned the win.
Along with Miller, graduate student forward Tara Booker, senior guard Danni Jackson and graduate student center Sara Mostafa all finished in double figures, tallying 16, 10 and 12 points, respectively. Booker added ten rebounds as well, earning her first double-double of the season.
“We had a good fight last game, and I feel like we were just focused on coming out and not only maintaining that effort, but building on it,” Miller said. “Everybody was just really focused and locked in.”
Tsipis, who grew more and more animated as his team’s lead grew in the latter part of the second half, was impressed with his team’s execution. He sees the potential his team has, and hopes to gain some separation from the rest of the conference field as February rolls forward.
But the coach also knows that there are still many issues that need to be addressed, namely turnovers and consistency.
“We’re sticking to our goal. We’re getting better each practice and each game,” Tsipis said. “But as far as us improving, we’ve got to be consistent with it. We can’t rebound today and then go to Fordham on Wednesday and not have that same kind of fight.”