Who: Women’s basketball
Where: Smith Center, Washington, D.C.
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m.
A win against George Mason for women’s basketball Saturday could elevate GW to the top half of the Atlantic 10 standings.
GW (6-11, 3-1 A-10) is fresh off a 67–59 comeback win over La Salle Wednesday while George Mason (9-8, 1-3 A-10) captured its first win of the conference campaign on the same day with a 70–52 victory over Massachusetts.
These local foes played twice last season and GW walked away victorious on both occasions. First was a 62–52 win at the Smith Center last January, followed by a 65–61 battle in Fairfax, Va. Senior forward Kelsi Mahoney sank five three-point shots in the latter contest for the Colonials.
Case for the Colonials:
GW is flying high on a three-game winning streak highlighted by a narrow 46–45 win over fellow A-10 title contenders Dayton last Saturday. The team continued its momentum against La Salle Wednesday and appears to have the hot hand against a Patriots team that has just one conference win so far.
Sophomore forward Neila Luma notched a career-high 20 points against Rhode Island on Jan. 9. Luma bested her own record later that week with 22 points against La Salle and has emerged as the premier scoring threat in head coach Jennifer Rizzotti’s offense.
Beyond Luma, the Colonials have lacked secondary scoring, but sophomore guard Lexus Levy and sophomore forward Chyna Latimer have stepped up in recent games, contributing double-digit scoring against Rhode Island and Dayton, respectively, off the bench. If Luma can get help on offense, GW should be able to keep up with a George Mason defense that allows opponents to score 65.1 points per game. But if the Patriots contain Luma and GW cannot get the ball rolling on offense, it will be a long afternoon for the Colonials.
Senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista has seen her points per game drop off recently, but has upped her game in other areas. Bautista notched eight assists and five steals last time out against La Salle and is by far the team’s leader in minutes per game with 34.6 minutes. Her all-around ability makes her a dynamic force on the court that can provide the spark for GW.
Bautista typically guards the opponent’s best player, in this case, sophomore guard Nicole Cardano-Hillary, who leads the A-10 with 20.4 points per game. Back on Jan. 5 in a 38–50 loss to Fordham, Bautista and the Colonials managed to limit redshirt sophomore guard Bre Cavanaugh, who is second in the conference with 17.8 points per game, to just 4-for-17 shooting. A similar lockdown performance will be needed to silence Cardano-Hillary.
Case for the Patriots:
George Mason dropped its first three conference games of the season, but scoring has not been the issue. The Patriots are second in the A-10 in scoring, averaging 67.0 points per game over the course of the year while GW scores 51.2 points per game, the fewest in the A-10.
Cardano-Hillary has been near-unstoppable since arriving from Madrid, Spain last year. She started every game as a freshman, was named the A-10 Rookie of the Year and was selected as a member of the A-10 All-Defensive Team. The last time she visited the Smith Center, she dropped a career-high 26 points. Cardano-Hillary will be a menace for the Colonials if GW cannot shut her down early.
The Patriots also top the league in other individual categories. Junior forward Jacey Bolton leads the A-10 with 8.4 rebounds per game, contributing to her team’s 42.4 rebounds per game which is good for second-most in the A-10. Bolton also pitches in with double-digit scoring, averaging 10.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Camarie Gatling is the most efficient shooter in the league, scoring with 56.0 percent of her shots. With the Colonials sitting third-to-last in rebounding in the A-10 with 34.9 boards per game, George Mason should be able to secure extra possessions for its high-powered offense.
On paper, GW has work to do Saturday afternoon, but given the Colonials’ performance in the A-10 so far, they will certainly be up to the challenge against George Mason. The key for the Colonials will be to feed Luma early and often like they did against La Salle. Her confidence in driving to the basket and taking shots will determine whether GW can keep pace with Cardano-Hillary and her team.
Given home court advantage and George Mason’s relative struggles in conference play, a close game is on tap for Saturday. Everything has to go right for GW if they want to beat the Patriots but they’re capable of rising to the task, and the Colonials just might take a narrow victory at home.