Women’s basketball head coach Jonathan Tsipis is known for setting precise goals. He gives players statistical benchmarks to reach in games, during individual periods and even against specific opposing players.
One by one, the Colonials have met them, and as all the pieces fit together, the picture is looking a lot like a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years.
Coming off four straight wins by a double-digit margin and riding a 14-game winning streak, this year’s team looks like a contender for a conference championship, which yields an automatic bid, or an at-large selection from the tournament committee come March.
Tsipis has drawn a blueprint for success, which has been critical in sustaining the team’s win streak and getting closer to meeting his targets.
“We understand who we are,” Tsipis said after GW’s victory over Rhode Island. “We like to work from the inside out and our guards put themselves in positions knowing that Jonquel [Jones] and Caira [Washington] and even Kelli [Prange] are going to see a lot of bodies around themselves.”
The Colonials are 14th in the NCAA in RPI. They are tied for first in the nation with a +14.6 rebounding margin. They have an in-season tournament championship on their resume and are currently sitting atop the Atlantic 10 with a perfect 5-0 start to conference play and an overall 16-2 record, which matches the best 18-game start in program history. The numbers are telling, but Tsipis said there’s leadership and chemistry on the team as well.
“I love the fact that we’re a team that’s very unselfish. We’ll give up a good shot to get a great one,” Tsipis said. “I think our kids have a lot of pride.”
Coming into the season, Tsipis emphasized playing a tough schedule to impress the selection committee. As of Jan. 19, GW has five wins over teams that made the NCAA tournament last year, and it still has games remaining against Dayton and Fordham.
The Colonials received 12 votes in Monday’s Associated Press poll, the eighth most of any school not ranked in the top 25. If that effectively puts them within the top-40 teams in the nation, they’d have some wiggle room in the field of 64. And Tsipis said the strength of the A-10 this season gives the Colonials a competitive edge because they have to fight through every game. Ten of the 14 teams in the league have winning records, and no team is without a conference win.
“The league is much better if you look at the non-conference records and you look at what the teams that have struggled for the last couple of years have done already in conference play,” Tsipis said.
Junior Jonquel Jones has also established herself individually as one of the nation’s best. The junior Naismith Trophy candidate is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double, and she leads the Colonials with 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
Her play prompted Richmond head coach Michael Shafer to compare her to the reigning National Player of the Year.
“Who matches up with her? Breanna Stewart from Connecticut, maybe?” Shafer said after the Colonials topped the Spiders 77-67 on Jan. 10. “The rest of the country doesn’t have that.”
Along with Jones in its arsenal, Tsipis has said that the team’s biggest advantage is it knows just the kind of game it should play. GW has only been out-rebounded one time, which has helped put the team first in the conference in scoring margin at +14.7 (Fordham is second at +7.1).
But even with the success so far, Tsipis still finds areas where the team can improve, setting goals as always.
“I think we did a good job the past couple games on transition decision making, but there were some problems in the second half,” Tsipis said after the win over UMass. “I think we need to keep working on that so we can put Caira and Jonquel in positions to be successful.”
Tsipis is still finding ways the team can get even better, but it might be time for the players to think about dusting off their dancing shoes.