Women’s basketball has doubled its season win total in its last four games of Atlantic 10 play – in part due to a jump in point production from sophomore forward Neila Luma.
Luma averaged 7.6 points and 8.4 field goal attempts in the first five games of the season, but in the last five games she has boosted those averages to 17.8 points nad 16.2 field goal attempts. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti tabbed Luma as one of the team’s go-to scorers earlier in the season, but the sophomore was inconsistent and went through spurts of single-digit scoring and spent a few games coming off the bench after being booted from her starting position.
“Our need for her to be a scorer was weighing pretty heavily on her in the first half of the year, and now she’s embraced that role,” Rizzotti said.
Now as one of the Colonials’ most experienced returning underclassmen, Luma has turned into the backbone of a GW offense that has lacked a consistent scoring option all season. Luma has registered double-digit points in the team’s past five games, including back-to-back 22-point efforts against La Salle and George Mason, and is the Colonials’ leading scorer with 11.4 points per contest.
The Colonials primarily relied on senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista and senior forward Kelsi Mahoney for their offensive production at the beginning of the year with little help behind them. But Luma’s point production provides an added layer of depth to GW’s offense.
Luma’s improvement prompted Rizzotti to run the Colonials’ offense around Luma’s shooting ability, she said.
“That wasn’t always the case, where she was comfortable with us running plays for her,” Rizzotti said. “It’s nice to see her really be ready to take that role and that responsibility of being someone who can be consistent on the offensive floor for us.”
Luma said assistant coach Kevin DeMille has been helping her develop her shots in practice and strategize her shooting game in response to opponents’ defensive structure. She said all aspects of her game have improved this season and she has embraced the scoring role put on her after being “timid” on the court last season.
“I didn’t really want to look for my shot, but now I have this mentality that I have to look for my shot,” Luma said. “I have to see if I can get a good shot.”
Luma said her teammates have been helping create space for her on the floor in order to get off her signature jumper from the free-throw line range.
The sophomore’s strengths aren’t all offensive. Rizzotti, who has consistently emphasized the importance of defense, identified Luma as one of the team’s “best defenders.” Luma leads the team in rebounds, averaging 5.5 per game.
In addition to Luma’s breakout, a handful of Colonials have also begun to step up for the team. Against Dayton, sophomore forward Chyna Latimer netted 12 points while sophomore guard Lexus Levy scored a career-high 16 points versus Rhode Island. Freshman center Kayla Mokwuah also set her career-high with 13 points against Fordham, while freshman guard Maddie Loder nearly matched her career-best in a 14-point effort against George Mason Saturday.
While Luma has grown into her role as a leader on the court, Rizzotti said the rest of the team needs to step up their shooting game to match Luma and play as a more cohesive unit.
“The better everyone continues to get with their consistency – whether it’s Maddie and Kelsi or Anna and Sarah or Lexi and Chyna – it takes a little bit of pressure off of everybody else,” Rizzotti said. “And that will allow us to be a team like we were last year at the end of the year.”
GW returns to action against VCU at home Wednesday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.