Women’s basketball switches up starting five to ease inexperience

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Sophomore guard Chyna Latimer goes up for a basket during Saturday's game against Dayton.

Sixteen games into the season, women’s basketball (5–11, 2–1 A-10) has finally found a consistent lineup.

Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti tinkered with her starting five during the team’s 13-game nonconference slate and said she was still struggling to find the right combination of starters she could consistently rely on after the team’s loss to Fordham to open Atlantic 10 play.

But after two consecutive wins over Rhode Island and Dayton, Rizzotti said she has solid starters in senior guards Mei-Lyn Bautista and Anna Savino, freshman guard Maddie Loder, senior forward Kelsi Mahoney and sophomore forward Neila Luma – at least for now.

“We’ll stick with the lineup we have,” Rizzotti said after the win over Rhode Island. “You don’t really want to fix something that’s not broken.”

Before she landed on the team’s starting five, Rizzotti debuted four iterations of the lineup that all revolved around senior duo Bautista and Mahoney, the only two players who have started every match this season.

“There just isn’t enough guys that are consistently playing at a high level of competitiveness and focus other than probably Mei, so we need to have more players to make those decisions easier for me,” Rizzotti said after the team’s game against William and Mary on Dec. 29. “But in the meantime, I might just have to give a couple other guys a chance.”

Rizzotti has switched up the lineup while working with a young roster that includes nine players with one year or less of college basketball experience. The team is also without a proven go-to scoring powerhouse, like 2018-graduate guard Brianna Cummings or 2017-graduate forward Caira Washington, for the first time in five seasons.

The team has been challenged to secure a starting five in recent years but had more success even amid a shifting workforce. Rizzotti played around with combinations of starters in the 2017-18 season, but the team still managed to average 61.6 points per game through 16 games – 11.4 points per game more than this season’s squad.

At 50.2 points per game, GW’s scoring offense ranks last in the A-10 and 347th out of 349 Division I women’s basketball teams. The Colonials are shooting 33.5 percent from the field and 61.3 percent from the charity stripe, marks that rank 12th and 14th in the conference, respectively.

As Rizzotti searched for an answer to her starter conundrum, she said she wanted to give everyone a chance to play substantial minutes to maximize on-court production and let younger and less experienced players get their feet wet.

Savino, the team’s former manager, was tapped to start against Iona in place of Latimer and Rizzotti stuck with the same lineup for the next seven games. During that span, the team went 1–6 while averaging 61.3 points per contest.

“Everybody’s playing double-figure minutes right now,” Rizzotti said after the team’s loss to William and Mary. “So everybody’s getting a chance.”

The team’s current starting five made its debut against Rhode Island, after Savino, Luma and Loder spent time rotating off the bench with Latimer and redshirt sophomore forwards Olivia Gumbs and Sarah Overcash.

“The coaches tell me every time I come in, when my name is called, go out there and play as aggressive as I can and as hard as I can,” Latimer said.

Loder entered the mix against Memphis on Jan. 1 in an effort to get Bautista off the ball and more involved with plays, Rizzotti said.

Luma, who came off the bench against Memphis and Fordham, was re-inserted into the starting lineup against Rhode Island after providing an offensive spark as a role player with a combined 18 points and 13 rebounds.

“When I started coming off the bench, I just made it my goal to play as hard as I can because I was not doing as well as I could be before,” Luma said. “So just to have that attention and focus and just to go hard all the time and compete was my main focus.”

The Colonials used the same lineup against Dayton and managed to hold the Flyers to 45 points in the match, 20.6 below their average, while picking up 46 points to pull out the win.

“Being locked in and on the same page, that just felt really good,” Rizzotti said after the team’s win over Dayton. “Hopefully we took a step in the right direction in terms of our team growth and our ability to trust each other a little bit.”

The Colonials return to action Wednesday when they take on La Salle on the road. Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m.

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