For the third time in four seasons, women’s basketball battled for the Atlantic 10 title Sunday.
It was a chance at redemption. As defending champions last year, they were knocked out in the quarterfinal round by Duquesne after clinching the regular-season crown.
But Sunday afternoon, the No. 5 seed Colonials (19-13, 10-6 A-10) were the ones cutting down the net in Richmond, Va. as the newly-crowned Atlantic 10 champions after a 65–49 win over No. 6 seed Saint Joseph’s (18-14, 10-6 A-10) – the first title under head coach Jennifer Rizzotti and the seventh in program history.
“I’m just really proud of the performance that they had, the grit they had and honestly the belief they could win,” Rizzotti said. “I’m sure there were times this year where we weren’t really sure of ourselves as a coaching staff, but they always made us feel confident about our preparation so I’m just thrilled.”
The win punches GW’s ticket to the NCAA tournament as the automatic bid from the A-10.
The team’s seniors – forward Kelli Prange, guard Brianna Cummings and guard Camila Tapias – now have been on a championship-winning team their entire GW careers and will make their third-ever trip to the Big Dance.
“Words can’t describe it,” Cummings said. “After last year, I went into coach’s office and I was like, I have two goals: win the A-10 tournament and get back to the NCAA and win in that tournament.”
Juniors guard Mei-Lyn Bautista and forward Kelsi Mahoney earned Conference All-Team honors along with Cummings, who also earned the Most Outstanding Player award in the tournament.
Cummings led the floor with 17 points and five rebounds, followed by Prange with 14 points and five boards. Mahoney went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc to rack up 12 points and four rebounds.
“So many people doubted us, but we knew what our end goal was and we were focused on that,” Cummings said. “We wanted to click at the end of the season so we were really focused and it’s just an amazing way to go out and end my career.”
Bautista dished out seven dimes and collected eight points in the win without turning the ball over once in the game. The game was the fourth straight the guard hasn’t turned over the rock in a match.
“She’s an energy giver, she’s completely selfless, she only cares about us winning, and it’s rare,” Rizzotti said. “You’re pretty special when that’s who you are as a human being.”
Both teams ended the night shooting 47.1 percent from the field on a 24-of-51 clip. Saint Joseph’s did not make a single three-point shot, going 0-for-8 from beyond the arc on the day. Mahoney made four three-pointers.
“The whole team worked tirelessly to get the entire team a great shot,” Mahoney said. “When your number’s called, you step up, and I’m happy to say the shots were falling today.”
Neither team held more than a two-point lead to start the first frame, but – with one minute left in the quarter – GW broke away from the Hawks after Bautista stole the ball and found freshman forward Neila Luma wide open under the hoop. The Colonials closed out the quarter up 16–10.
Luma ended the night with 10 points and six rebounds to her name.
One minute into the second quarter, a deep three from Mahoney extended the run that started in the first quarter. The Hawks then made three field goals in a row to cut down GW’s lead to four points, but the Colonials continued to hit their shots.
A three-point play and a three-point shot from Prange pushed the Colonials ahead 20-10 with three minutes left in the quarter. Heading into halftime, GW led 32–24.
The Colonials were slow out of the gate after the break, going 1-for-7 from the field midway through the the third quarter. A layup from Hawks junior guard Kristalyn Baisden cut the Colonials lead to just five, but GW held on to open up a 7-0 scoring run with one minute left in the frame.
Mahoney hit two more three-point shots in the final frame to solidify the Colonials’ victory and as the game clock hit zero, GW’s bench emptied onto the court in celebration.
“Taking over at GW is taking over tradition, it was never a rebuild situation,” Rizzotti said. “It’s special. I think a lot more people expected us to have this success last year.”