RICHMOND, Va. ― Women’s basketball’s regular-season journey had plenty of ups and downs, including a 14-game winning streak, ending that streak against a team with a losing record, experiencing an injury to one of its best players and finishing out strong enough for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
It’s only fitting that the Atlantic 10 Championship final unfolded in the same way. The Colonials (26‒6, 13‒3 A-10) went from trailing for nearly 30 minutes to holding the opposition to just one basket in the final quarter – from turning the ball over with seconds on the game clock, up three points, to dancing in the middle of the court to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
In Richmond on Sunday, GW achieved one of its biggest goals of the season by coming from behind, battling and defeating the Duquesne Dukes (27‒5, 13‒3 A-10) 63–60 en route to defending the A-10 title and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“This year’s team had to go through a lot more bumps on the road. Whether it be an injury, whether it be we were not as good defensively, we just found a way to get it done,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said.
The quick start saw the Dukes go 3-for-5 from behind the arc in the first four minutes to take an early six-point lead. Soon after, the Colonials defense picked up, preventing Duquesne from scoring any points for the next five and a half minutes.
Unfortunately for GW, the offense was plagued with turnovers the entire first quarter, racking up five to Duquesne’s zero, forcing them to finish the first frame trailing 15–13.
“We can’t rebound a turnover. We got too deep at times and there were a couple of plays that instead of taking a good shot, we passed it away. After that we talked about simplifying the game a little bit because Duquesne did a good job at making post entries difficult,” Tsipis said.
The Colonials took their first lead of the game just 20 seconds into the second quarter. Graduate student guard Lauren Chase and senior forward Jonquel Jones were running the floor with pace and attacking the basket with success. But, the Dukes answered after every blow including a perfect 2-for-2 clip from 3-point range from freshman forward Kadri-Ann Lass.
The final punch before halftime went to the Dukes after they forced two consecutive GW turnovers and freshman forward Angela Fileno nailed a three to give them the 41–34 advantage at the half.
Both sides were shooting similarly high percentages in the first half and the Dukes led in most other categories, but the Colonials were dominating the boards. Jones in particular had the upper hand compared to the opposition.
She finished with a game-high 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points and six blocks in the most minutes she has played since returning from an injury.
In the first half, Duquesne senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman was getting her way on the floor and leading her team with an energetic offensive style. She had 13 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and going 3-for-4 at the line.
At the beginning of the second half, Duquesne briefly extended its lead to eight thanks to a Workman 3-pointer. A couple key stops from the Colonials and an energizing and-one finish from junior guard Hannah Schaible turned that around and brought the Colonials back into the swing of things – only down three.
Schaible finished with a game-high 17 points by attacking the basket and getting to the line. She made nine free throws and was focused on the interior offensively.
“I was not shooting very well from the outside so I had to take it to the inside and draw some contact to get points,” Schaible said.
In the final minute of the third quarter, the Colonials were closing in on the lead. A jumper from sophomore guard Bri Cummings, a forced travel and an end-to-end finish for Chase knotted the game up with just seconds before the buzzer.
All of that GW momentum was silenced when Duquesne senior guard April Robinson hit a 3-pointer giving the Dukes a 55‒52 lead going into the final frame.
The fourth quarter is when the Colonials won the game. Their defense had a no-easy-shot mentality, holding Duquesne to 1-for-19 from the field and only five total points.
The hard work defensively eventually paid off when Schaible hit a baseline jumper to give GW the 59‒57 lead with five minutes left. After the defense forced a turnover they slowed the game down and made sure to waste all of the time they could.
Jones hit two important buckets on successive trips down the floor including a shot clock-beating fade-away with a defender in her face.
“We felt like if we could keep the game close toward the end that maybe we would have a little bit more depth because they played two games down to the wire of Friday and Saturday,” Tsipis said.
With 17 seconds remaining, the Colonials were up three and had the ball with a chance to pass it in and close the game out with free throws. Instead, a five second violation allowed the Dukes one more chance at a comeback.
Duquesne decided to take the ball inside and try to draw contact, but after a block by Jones sent the ball out of bounds, time was all but up. Robinson was able to get the ball and look at the basket, but before she knew it junior forward Caira Washington was in her face, disrupting any chance at a make.
The Colonials now await their seeding in the 2016 NCAA Tournament which begins Mar. 18. The women’s tournament brackets will be broadcast at 7 p.m. March 14 on ESPN.