Although women’s basketball was forced to adjust roles after losing several major contributors in the offseason, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti still scheduled one of the team’s toughest slates in recent years.
Now, the Colonials are in the midst of their non-conference action and so far they have seen moderate success despite substantial individual growth.
GW has opened the season at 3-5 after Saturday’s loss to No. 17 South Florida, and is still trying to establish their identity as a team.
The Bulls exposed some of GW’s inexperience on the defensive side of the ball, exploiting poor rotations and switches to get easy layups at the rim. These lapses have been particularly concerning to Rizzotti, who said that she wants to see her team compete harder.
“One through 10, we need to be more determined on the defensive end with our rebounding, so that our defensive progression can match what we’re doing on offense,” Rizzotti said.
The Colonials fell twice in the 2017 Paradise Jam two weeks ago, including a 12-point loss to a Syracuse team that ranks No. 25 in the USA Coaches Poll.
GW’s schedule in the upcoming week will be challenging as the Colonials face Mercer on the road in Georgia before returning to the DMV to challenge the No. 15 Maryland Terrapins in College Park, Md.
“We’re trying to measure ourselves against the best, which is why we’re playing teams like South Florida,” Rizzotti said. “We clearly need to continue to work hard and get better.”
Players said they understand that the challenge Rizzotti has put before them will pay dividends in the long run.
“We don’t like losing,” junior point guard Mei-Lyn Bautista said. “But if this is what it takes to be great in conference and later in the season, then we’re going to take that as a learning experience.”
During the difficult start to the season, Rizzotti has utilized a number of different offensive and defensive sets – allowing some of her young players to develop.
While Bautista and senior guard Brianna Cummings have started every game for GW this season, the Colonials have used seven different starters in their lineup and have eight players averaging over 19 minutes per game.
Freshman forward Neila Luma has already become a crucial member of the GW frontcourt, starting seven of eight games and averaging over seven points and seven rebounds per contest.
Freshman guard Lexus Levy has been a consistent contributor to the backcourt coming off the bench, averaging 5.6 points per game. She has provided the Colonials with a dangerous outside scoring threat, while holding her own defensively.
A recent injury to the team’s leading scorer, senior forward Kelli Prange, has also forced Rizzotti to use nearly every player on the roster. Players like sophomore forward Kendall Bresee and freshman forward Chyna Latimer have seen their touches and minutes increase.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, so everybody’s going to play,” Rizzotti said. “The intensity and the determination has to be equal among our team whether you’re a senior who has been through it or a junior who understands it, or a freshman that is coming in and trying to play.”
Some of the veterans have also improved their individual performances from last season. Cummings is averaging 13.0 points and 5.5 boards per game on 45.1 percent shooting from the field. She also has picked up over two steals per contest.
Senior guard Camila Tapias went from averaging 11.7 minutes per game last season to nearly 20 minutes per game this season. She has shot a team-high 54.2 percent from the three-point line from the starting two guard spot.
The Colonials haven’t been able to translate individual improvement into team success. Opponents are shooting nearly 44 percent from the field against GW and out-rebounding the Colonials by about five boards per game.
But Rizzotti said her team’s leaders have impressed her by their willingness to take challenges head on and accept a certain level of growing pains.
“They’ve come back every day ready to get better,” Rizzotti said. “And that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”