Women’s basketball’s season came down to the last minute of Friday’s game with the team’s best player on the bench.
Senior guard Brianna Cummings – GW’s leading scorer – fouled out with just over two minutes on the clock, forcing the Colonials to hold on to their one possession lead over George Mason to earn another game.
A perfect fourth-quarter showing from the charity stripe allowed No. 5 GW (17-13, 10-6 A-10) to take down the No. 4 seed Patriots (23-9, 11-5 A-10) 64–59 and advance to the semifinal of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“I am very happy with the fight that our team showed today, the perseverance to just get through a game where we didn’t particularly play well or pretty with our top guy in foul trouble,” head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “We just had different people step up, it was a great team win.”
GW now boasts a 3-0 record against the Patriots over the past two months – extending its winning streak in the series to 13 consecutive wins. Cummings said it is tough to defeat a team multiple times over a short period, but the Colonials tried to focus on what they learned from the scout.
“We focused on how they were guarding us, they were switching in the last game so we just worked on making the right cuts, screening hard and reading,” she said.
The victory earned GW a trip back to the Richmond Coliseum Saturday at 11 a.m. to take on No. 1 seed Dayton. The Flyers dropped only one game in conference play and twice defeated GW during the season en route to the A-10 regular season crown.
But with 27 seconds to play – and a two-point difference on the scoreboard – aginast George Mason, GW’s win almost slipped away. Senior forward Kelli Prange dribbled the ball off her foot and out of bounds when trying to waste the clock or draw a foul. The closest ref called a foul, but the one on the baseline disagreed, arguing it should be the Patriots’ ball.
The possession ultimately stayed with the Colonials – after it was ruled an inadvertent whistle and a jump ball – and following free throws diminished George Mason’s chances of winning.
“I know that I’m put in those positions for a reason,” Prange said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I had one job not to turn the ball over’ and sure enough there was a chance that I would have.”
Prange led GW with 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes off the bench. Junior forward Kelsi Mahoney anchored the Colonials’ perimeter offense with a 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. As a team, they shot 42.3 percent from the floor and junior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista dished out seven assists without turning the ball over.
Starters Cummings and freshman forward Neila Luma played only a combined 40 minutes because they were both forced to sit due to foul concerns. But by the afternoon’s end, six different GW players scored six or more points compared to just three for the Patriots.
“We go into each game not knowing who is going to be the leading scorer or who is going to be the leading rebounder,” Prange said. “I think that is what is so nice about our team in general.”
George Mason’s offense was led by graduate student center Natalie Butler – the conference’s Player of the Year – who scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The performance was her 31st double-double of the year so far.
The Patriots scored 23 second chance points compared to just four from GW after grabbing 10 more rebounds on the offensive glass.
Rizzotti said she wasn’t disappointed with her team’s defensive effort because she did not expect them to contain Butler from securing offensive boards or getting shots up.
“She doesn’t just have size, but she has great touch around the basket and she keeps the ball high,” Rizzotti said. “We were more adamant about stopping letting the guards drive past us so Kelli and Kelsi don’t have to rotate off of her.”
Both sides kept the game close from the opening tip – with no lead larger than six points during the entire game and no lead larger than three points during the first half.
The contest was tied three times in the first quarter and there were three lead changes, but a last minute layup by Bautista gave the Colonials the one-point edge at the first break.
Both team’s increased their scoring loads by exactly one point in the second quarter as the forwards were leading the offensive charge. Three-pointers from Prange and Mahoney allowed GW to carry a 29–27 advantage into the halftime break.
George Mason began the third frame with momentum to come back and an 11-4 run. After grabbing the lead, the Patriots never trailed and the Colonials needed a buzzer-beating three from Mahoney to tie up the game going into the fourth.
“I actually reamed them out in the break between the third and fourth quarter,” Rizzotti said. “I said ‘we haven’t even played good yet, this is not what we are capable of so we’re not leaving this to chance.'”
In the final frame, Cummings got the GW offense going before being forced to sub out. The Colonials led by as many as five points with two minutes to play, but two George Mason three-pointers kept the scoreboard tight.