Updated: Jan. 26, 2016 at 3:05 p.m.
On a bleak and snowy December day in Champaign, Ill., the Colonials were struggling against the University of Illinois. Plagued by turnovers and unable to score, they could not shake free of the Fighting Illini. That is, until sophomore guard Brianna Cummings singlehandedly took over the game by scoring 14 second-half points, including six straight points to kick off a 9‒0 fourth quarter run that the Colonials used to pull away for good.
It was a breakout game for Cummings, who finished with 20 points, and a moment that was indicative of the increasingly large role she has played on the team since being inserted into the starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast in the beginning of December.
Since then, Cummings has shown her increasing ability to score and rebound, posting a strong performance of 10 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis, and tallying 7 points and 5 rebounds against Rhode Island before succumbing to an eye injury late in the game that would force her to miss the following two contests. Cummings returned from the injury with a strong performance against George Mason, scoring 10 points and adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes.
“I was never focused on or worried about ‘proving myself,’” Cummings said. “[Starting] was just a new role, so I knew I had to step up and do the best job I could in that role to help the team win.”
Cummings has helped the Colonials do just that, as coach Tsipis’ squad has reeled off 12-straight victories since that loss against FGCU, in large part due to their continued dominance on the glass and on the defensive side of the ball. For her part, Cummings excels in both aspects from the guard position, averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and often checking the opposing teams’ most dynamic player.
“Personally, I love guarding the best players,” Cummings said. “I think it might just be my mentality as a player, but also it’s just as important stopping the other team as it is to score. I think defense is one of my biggest roles on the team.”
Tsipis has often lauded Cummings for her defensive prowess and ability to stretch the floor and guard multiple positions using her quickness.
“Bri takes a lot of pride in being a great defensive player,” Tsipis said. “She’s just a different type of defender than Hannah [Schaible], Shannon [Cranshaw], and Mei-Lyn [Bautista] because of her length ability to defend on the perimeter but then attack the glass and rebound.”
The No. 1 rebounding team in the country has multiple players that can pull down the boards, and several guards who are good rebounders, but Cummings has a particularly strong nose for the ball on the offensive end, along with junior guard Hannah Schaible. The two guards are aggressive in hunting for the ball and giving the Colonials second-chance opportunities.
Of Cummings’ 72 total rebounds in the season, 31 have come on the offensive end (43 of Schaible’s 92 have come from that side of the ball). The rebounding ability of the guards has been tremendous in affording the Colonials multiple second-chance opportunities, as well as in taking pressure off of forwards Caira Washington and Jonquel Jones in the middle.
Cummings iterated the pride that she and Schaible take in their ability to rebound, even suggesting that they should strive to pull down at least five rebounds a game, a mindset that embodies the premium the team places on their ability to dominate the glass.
Although Cummings takes particular pride in her defensive abilities, her versatility on offense is garnering the attention of opposing teams as well. Her repertoire was on full display in the Illinois game, where she knocked down an assortment of mid-range jumpers and runners, and drove to the lane at will.
Her slashing nature in particular has been a boon for the Colonials, a means of using the new foul rules to her advantage and make multiple trips to the charity stripe. At 75.6 percent, Cummings has the highest percentage on the team for all players with 25 or more attempts.
“She has that ability to get to the rim and then she shoots such a high percentage from the free throw line,” said Tsipis. “It gives us that much more depth and allows us to do different things offensively with the personnel we have.”
Cummings believes that her success has come as part of the process of understanding and growing more accustomed to being on the floor.
“I’ve become much more comfortable offensively, and it’s allowed me to attack the rim strong or step out and hit the jumper,” Cummings said. “When you get into the flow of the offense you’re not overthinking, you just let the game come to you.”
For all of her improvements that are helping the Colonials win, Cummings could be enjoying her growth as a player just down the road – with the Georgetown Hoyas.
“[My recruiting decision] actually came down to here and Georgetown,” Cummings said with a smile. “GW came into the process pretty late, but I had great visits and was very comfortable with the coaching staff. I was able to learn and hang out with JJ and Bird [graduate guard Lauren Chase], so it just felt right.”
Luckily for the Colonials, she chose to take her talents to the Smith Center, and in the process enjoyed one of the programs’ best-ever seasons. Despite the accomplishments of last year, however, Cummings knows that the goal is bigger this year.
With Cummings back in the lineup, the Colonials are a deeper team, and such depth will prove crucial as they gear up for a postseason run.
“We definitely have to build on last year,” Cummings said. “Personally I know I want to be a little more active on the floor, just moving around and getting to spots. We want to continue to crash the boards, and maybe I can get a couple more steals per game.”
This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported GW’s national rebounding rank. The Colonials are the No. 1 rebounding team in the country, not No. 2. They are second in rebounding margin but first in rebounds per game. Due to an editing error, The Hatchet incorrectly reported the game in which Cummings was injured. She was injured against Rhode Island, not Iona. We regret these errors.