Atlantic 10 Championship preview: Women’s basketball tries for third straight title, NCAA bid

Women’s basketball (20-8, 13-3 A-10) will head to Richmond, Va. this weekend as the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

After a win on the road at Richmond and a Saint Louis loss at Dayton, the Colonials earned a share of the A-10 regular-season title for the third straight year. The Colonials, who will share the crown with Dayton, will have the second of two byes, as the Flyers won the tiebreaker with the highest winning percentage against a common opponent (Dayton and GW split their two head-to-head matchups).

The Colonials won their last seven conference games after senior forward Caira Washington returned to the lineup from a hand injury, and have allowed an average just over 49 points per game on the defensive end across that span. GW will look for their staunch defense and the scoring of Washington and fellow forwards Lexi Martins and junior Kelli Prange to power them to yet another conference championship.

Teams to watch:

No. 7 Duquesne

The Colonials will play the Dukes in their opening contest Friday at 4:30 p.m. after No. 7 Duquesne took down No. 10 George Mason, 66-55, last Saturday.

Although GW dominated the Dukes 75-40 back on New Year’s Day, they dropped the rematch 73-63 in late January.

The Colonials were powerless without then-injured Washington, as Dukes center Amadea Szamosi went off for 24 points and 14 rebounds. The Dukes also tallied 34 free throw attempts, knocking down 29 of them.

The Colonials are a far different team defensively with Washington on the floor, and her post athleticism should make things much tougher on Szamosi should the Dukes advance. That being said, this game could be tight, particularly if the Colonials continue to struggle with foul trouble.

No. 3 Saint Joseph’s

GW won the singular matchup between the two teams, but Saint Joseph’s looks dangerous. The Hawks won eight of their last nine contests, including a big win over Saint Louis three weeks ago.

Saint Joseph’s can really fill it up at times, and the team has three players that average double-figures. Similarly, they match up well with the Colonials in that their top-two scorers and rebounders – Chelsea Woods and Adashia Franklin – play the forward position, meaning a matchup between the two teams would be a battle in the trenches.

A potential semifinal between the two squads would likely come down to backcourt play and three-point shooting, an area where the Colonials have excelled as of late.

No. 1 Dayton/ No. 4 Saint Louis

Should the Colonials advance to the championship game, they will more than likely face one of these two teams.

The Billikens had a rough end to their year, going from potential regular-season A-10 champs to the fourth-seed in the tournament after an overtime loss at Dayton on Wednesday night.

However, this is still a very formidable opponent. Senior guard Jackie Kemph is a candidate for Player of the Year, with averages of 14.4 points and 7.5 assists, while fellow senior and teammate Sadie Stipanovich could argue the same after posting 14.7 and 8.4 boards per contest.

Kemph torched GW for 24 points in Saint Louis’ 67-59 win on January 26. That being said, that was the Colonials’ first game without Washington, and it was a closely contested road loss. Much like a matchup against Saint Joseph’s, a final against the Billikens could come down to GW’s backcourt and their ability to keep Kemph in check.

A finals matchup with the top-seeded Flyers, meanwhile, would make for a fascinating trilogy.

GW dropped a tough 50-48 contest in Ohio before rebounding with a 52-39 win at home Feb. 12. However, the Flyers were without star point guard Jenna Burdette in that loss, which made a huge difference. Burdette’s proficiency in running the pick-and-roll with Dayton’s big frontcourt of Saicha Grant-Allen and Alex Harris was instrumental in Dayton’s win over GW, but without Burdette it struggled to get into its sets and take care of the ball in the second matchup.

A healthy Burdette would make for what would likely be an intense, low-scoring battle for the A-10 crown and auto-bid to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Potential Sleeper: Duquesne

The Dukes have been such a puzzling team this season. They have quality wins, like a 94-65 blowout of Saint Louis and a 73-63 road victory over GW, but also have troubling losses like a 71-69 loss to Rhode Island. If Duquesne can establish Szamosi as the focal point on both sides and get scoring contributions from Chassidy Omogrosso and Julijana Vojinovic, they could pull off a second-round upset but will need to significantly improve defensively.

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