La Salle corralled women’s basketball for much of the first half of Wednesday’s contest in Philadelphia – trailing for less than a minute and leading by as many as seven points.
But seven unanswered points for GW tied the game up entering halftime, energizing the team for a 22-point explosion in the third quarter.
The increased offensive output allowed the Colonials (6-11, 3-1 A-10) to garner a lead entering the final frame that they never surrendered – defeating the Explorers 67–59. The win marked their third consecutive victory over the past week, a dramatic shift from the team’s 3-11 start to the year.
“We had a struggle to get into a flow offensively but there were enough defensive breakdowns that I thought our guys did a great job of taking advantage of,” head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “We’re still a work in progress but we’re certainly moving in the right direction.”
Sophomore forward Neila Luma led all players with a career-high 22 points while senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista chipped in 10 points, eight assists and five steals.
As a team, the Colonials shared the ball well on the night and put together a consistent game on the floor, tallying 21 assists on 24 field goals.
“That’s kind of who we are, we’re not a team that’s going to create our own shots a lot so we need to make sure that our passing is crisp,” Rizzotti said. “I thought our guys did a great job of finding the open player tonight.”
La Salle was led by a 21-point performance from sophomore guard Rayshel Brown and a double-double from senior forward Jeryn Reese – who finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
The Explorers dominated the boards in the first quarter – outrebounding GW 14-5, including seven offensive rebounds. Brown and Reese both snagged five off the glass while no Colonial had more than one in the quarter.
Luma scored six of her points in the opening frame as she was fed the ball early and often. Her increasing role in the offense saw her attempt 18 shots during the game, more than twice as many as any other Colonial.
GW’s defense got off to a slow start and was consistently breached by La Salle’s usually low-scoring offense. The Explorers racked up points as their movement beneath the basket created several complete breakdowns of the Colonials’ defensive structure. The home side led 16–12 after the first quarter.
Sophomore guard Lexus Levy came off the bench for GW and opened the second quarter by draining a three to close the gap to one point. But the Colonials went on a four-minute scoring drought, trailing by five before senior guard Anna Savino converted a three-pointer of her own.
The Explorers’ offense cooled down considerably in the second quarter, shooting 28.6 percent in the frame – 11.4 percentage points lower than their first-half clip. GW also contested the glass much better in the second frame, only trailing 11-9 on the boards and allowing just three offensive boards.
A 7-0 Colonials run in the final two minutes of the half leveled the score. Senior forward Kelsi Mahoney dished a long pass to Luma for a game-tying layup with seven seconds remaining to even things up at 27-27 heading into the locker room.
That momentum continued for the Colonials in the third quarter. They put up 22 points on 57.1 percent shooting while holding the Explorers to 30.8 percent from the floor. La Salle briefly tied the game at 32-32 after a three from freshman forward Kayla Spruill, but the Colonials retook the lead after just 10 seconds thanks to a pair of free throws from freshman guard Maddie Loder.
La Salle tied the game again at 41-41 with just over a minute remaining in the third on a pair of free throws. But in the final minute of the quarter, the Colonials gave themselves breathing space thanks to threes from Levy and Mahoney on either side of a Luma layup that gave GW a 49-41 lead heading into the final frame.
Luma opened the fourth quarter with a layup that tied her previous career high of 20 points. She sat out most of the quarter due to foul trouble but sunk during the game’s final minute to set a new career mark.
“I thought she did a great job in terms of her balance tonight, scoring in transition, scoring on outside shots and then taking the ball hard to the basket,” Rizzotti said. “When she’s on and she’s confident and she’s hard to guard, we’re going to run plays for her.”
The two teams went blow for blow in the fourth, each registering 18 points in the quarter. Brown made a three with just over two minutes remaining to slash La Salle’s deficit down to 55-49, but Loder instantly replied with a triple of her own to restore GW’s lead to nine with less than two minutes remaining.
La Salle fouled the Colonials late in the game to try to mount a comeback but Bautista went 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to secure the result.
“It’s good to have a point guard that you trust at the end of the game to make a play, to get an assist, make the free throws,” Rizzotti said. “She just does everything for us.”
The Colonials return to action on Saturday when they host George Mason at 2 p.m.