After 13 lead changes in the first three quarters, senior guard Brianna Cummings and the Colonials defense helped women’s basketball take control Sunday night.
George Mason was limited to 29.6 percent shooting in the second half and Cummings scored 20 of her career-high 28 points after the break.
GW (7-8, 2-1 A-10) defeated the Patriots (13-4, 2-1 A-10) 62–52 to knock them off of their top spot in the Atlantic 10.
“Offensively it was just about patience,” head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “Our guys were good about pushing tempo, but being patient when we didn’t have a great shot in transition and hitting the hot hand – which was Bri in the second half.”
The result moves GW’s streak to nine straight victories over George Mason – spanning back to January 2014. But in a season of numerous blowouts, the 10-point win is the smallest the Colonials have had all year.
Rizzotti said it was good to experience a close contest in conference play because the team needs to prepare that part of its game.
“Every opportunity is a chance for us to learn,” Rizzotti said. “Whether it’s a close game to draw up a press break or we need a foul at the end of the game or we just need a stop, it is a good film opportunity.”
Along with Cummings – who shot 10-for-17 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free-throw line – freshman forward Neila Luma and junior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista led the Colonials offensively, scoring 11 and eight points respectively. As a team, GW shot 41.5 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line on 21 attempts.
Neither team was able to rely on the three-point shot for a majority of the night, despite a combined 45 attempts. Patriots sophomore guard Jacy Bolton – who averages 10.2 points per game – missed all eight of her shots from behind the arc and was held scoreless.
Instead, the George Mason offense focused almost entirely on just two players – graduate student center Natalie Butler and freshman guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary. The duo combined for 42 points and more than half of their roster’s shots.
Rizzotti said they expected the two-pronged offense to get points regardless of the defense they showed.
“You are really not going to limit [Cardaño-Hillary’s] shots because she is going to take them whether they are good or bad, it’s just a matter of wearing her down,” Rizzotti said. “Our goal was to not let anybody else get a bunch of points around them.”
As a team, George Mason shot just 31.6 percent from the field and turned the ball over 18 times. Rizzotti said her team’s main focus on the night was the defensive end and GW continues its streak of only winning games when the opponent shoots lower than 35 percent.
The Colonials were again without senior forward Kelli Prange – who returned for six minutes against VCU Wednesday after missing the previous six games with a concussion. In her absence, GW has been outrebounded every time out. The Patriots won the battle on the glass by nine rebounds, highlighted by 17 offensive boards.
Cummings was GW’s top rebounder – with eight boards – and was the aggressor throughout the contest on both the offensive and defensive glass.
“With Kelli gone, we are definitely missing a huge person in the paint that can grab some of those for us,” Cummings said. “But it is the guard’s responsibility to take care of all of the loose rebounds.”
Luma scored the night’s first basket, but Cardaño-Hillary hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Patriots a 10–7 advantage – what would end up being their largest lead of the game.
At the end of the first quarter, GW led by one after baskets by Cummings and freshman forward Chyna Latimer were matched by a George Mason three just before the buzzer.
There were five lead changes in the second quarter, but both sides were scoring at their lowest rate of the night. Each Colonials basket was responded to by a Patriots one and George Mason went into halftime with a 24–21 lead.
More than a minute into the second half, a three-pointer from junior forward Kelsi Mahoney tied the game up. After three minutes of trading baskets, a difficult layup from Bautista, a distance shot from freshman guard Lexus Levy and free throws from Cummings helped GW to a 10-2 run and a four-point lead by the end of the third quarter.
The Colonials never gave back the lead, and relied on defensive stops to create openings for Cummings and Luma on the other end of the floor.
“In the third quarter and fourth quarter when we started to get some separation, it was because we were able to rebound and score in transition and they don’t have the speed we do,” Rizzotti said.
The Colonials return to action Saturday at noon for a home game against Duquesne (13-3, 3-0 A-10).