At the start of the season, women’s basketball head coach Jonathan Tsipis set the bar high for his team: Get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Four games into the season, the Colonials sat at .500. Following the only home loss of the season, however, they went on a 19-game winning streak that saw them climb into the national rankings, set records and all but ensure the fulfillment of Tsipis’ goal.
Over the last two games, No. 22 GW clinched its first Atlantic 10 regular season title since 2008 with a dramatic overtime win at Richmond on Thursday and a 35-point steamrolling of George Mason on Sunday.
The Colonials will begin their run at the A-10 tournament title Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of the game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. A championship would be GW’s first since 2003, but Tsipis said the team is trying not to get overly distracted by the big-picture implications.
“We have a special group,” Tsipis said. “Our goals were even simpler than a championship. We just have to keep getting better throughout the whole year. And I think it’s ironic that we had to do something we hadn’t done – win in overtime – to clinch the No. 1 seed.”
The most prominent source of GW’s success is the frontcourt. Naismith trophy candidate and junior Jonquel Jones dominated down low for the Colonials all season long. She picked up even more steam as the season went on, finishing the year averaging 15.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, fifth in the country in rebounding and the only A-10 player averaging a double-double.
But Jones didn’t hold down the post alone. She was complemented and protected by sophomore Caira Washington, who is fifth in the conference in rebounding and seventeenth in scoring. Overall, GW ranks first in the NCAA with a +13.9 rebounding margin.
Defensive play has also helped the Colonials capture their first regular season championship since 2008. GW is second in the conference in points against per game and first in field goal percentage against. Combine those defensive stats with a No. 2 ranked 72.8 points per game, and you get a team that led the league with a +14.8 scoring margin.
Another key component to the team’s success has been depth. Nine players averaged double-digit minutes for the season, five of whom averaged more than 20. Overall, 11 players played in at least 20 games.
GW was not only able to hold its ground at the Smith Center with a league-high 14 wins at home, but was also one of two teams with double-digit wins on the road.
The Colonials received a double bye into the A-10 championship quarterfinals. The tournament will get underway with the first round on Wednesday.
“It means a lot,” Jones said about GW’s No. 1 seed. “It gives us some more recovery time and we get to play early games, and it’s been a hard-fought season.”