Women’s basketball is one of the lowest rebounding teams in the Atlantic 10, but the Colonials said they are taking advantage of the versatility offered by playing a small-ball lineup.
The Colonials (8–12, 5–2 A-10) average 5.7 fewer rebounds per game than opponents they have faced, and rank No. 12 of 14 teams in the league averaging 34.7 rebounds per game. In games when she knows her team will be at a height disadvantage, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she has used her team’s strengths on offense to make up for their lack of height on the post.
“We’re not going to outrebound every opponent but we’re going to be hard to match up against,” Rizzotti said after the team’s win over VCU Wednesday.
Rizzotti said the three-guard lineup she has been going with since the beginning of conference play – freshman guard Maddie Loder and senior guards Mei-Lyn Bautista and Anna Savino – spreads the floor and makes the Colonials difficult to guard on offense.
“When they have to worry about guarding Kelsi [Mahoney] at the three-point line and Neila [Luma] at the elbow and on the block, they have a 6-foot-4-inch center trying to stop a 6-foot athletic driver or a 6-foot shooter, it gives us an advantage,” Rizzotti said.
Rizzotti said the team’s lack of height on the post is not a problem and helps boost the team’s defense by making it more versatile.
The Colonials have gone 6–2 since the start of the new year after going winless in the month of December. In the team’s last two games against VCU and Duquesne, the Colonials have gone a combined 21-for-51 from the three-point line while limiting opponents to a combined 6-for-33 clip from beyond the arc.
The Colonials are last in the A-10 in scoring 52.1 points per game, but are the fourth-hardest defense to score against in the league, allowing their competitors to score 57.6 points per game.
But the Colonials are giving up points on the post. In 13 out of 20 games this year and each of the last four, GW has allowed opponents to grab double-digit offensive rebounds. So far in A-10 play, opponents have averaged 8.6 second-chance points per game on 12 offensive rebounds per game while the Colonials have scored 4.1 second-chance points per game on 6.3 offensive boards per game.
The top-three rebounding teams in the A-10 – Dayton, George Mason and Davidson – are also the three highest-scoring teams in the conference.
“We’re not a big team, so when we give those up and we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do on the board, it’s tough for us,” Bautista said after the game against VCU. “Giving up those points on second chances is really tough so we don’t want to do that.”
The Colonials have struggled all season with rebounding, allowing opponents like George Mason, Fordham, USF, NC State and Maryland to outrebound them by a double-digit margin.
When GW and George Mason squared off on Jan. 19, the Patriots won 64–60 and enjoyed a 49–27 advantage in rebounds. George Mason tallied 12 second-chance points in the game while the Colonials scored just two.
Because her team is playing with a smaller lineup, Rizzotti said she needs her guards to be “tougher” on the glass and to rebound better defensively.
“I think our mindset needs to be, ‘we’re going to give up some offensive rebounds so how many second-chance points are we willing to give the other team?’” Rizzotti said. “Is it a matter of being out-hustled or just being smaller?”
Sophomore forward Neila Luma’s 5.8 rebounds per game leads the Colonials, but her newfound role as one of the team’s primary scoring threats has moved her away from the post area some.
In the loss to George Mason, Luma posted a career-high 22 points and grabbed two rebounds, and against Dayton on Jan. 12, she led the Colonials with 13 points off 14 shots, while also grabbing five rebounds. Against VCU and Duquesne, Luma tallied a combined 16 rebounds between the two matches but picked up just 11 points across both contests.
Freshman center Kayla Mokwuah is the tallest rostered player, listed at 6 feet 4 inches, but she is outmatched by other A-10 centers like 6-foot-5-inch Massachusetts redshirt freshman Anil Soysal and 6-foot-6 inch VCU sophomore center Sofya Pashigoreva. Saint Louis alone has three players measuring in at 6 feet 4 inches or taller.
Averaging 11.5 minutes per game on the season, Mokwuah has played less than five minutes per game since GW’s contest against Dayton on Jan. 12, but Rizzotti said she is trying to find more opportunities in games for the freshman to get more experience under the rim for the Colonials down the stretch.
“There are times where rebounding can become an issue when we have three smaller guards out there so that’s something that we’re trying to address,” Rizzotti said. “But we just need some of our post players to get a little better and more experienced.”
Rizzotti has continued to play a guard-heavy lineup in the A-10 and the Colonials have found other ways to win without size and strength beneath the basket. Against VCU, GW was outrebounded 35–40 but Bautista’s 21-point performance and VCU’s 7.1 percent three-point shooting helped the Colonials capture the win.
“We just out-hustle them, that’s a really big focus for us every game,” Loder said after a 57–48 win over VCU on Jan. 23. “Even though we’re a little bit undersized, we’re always going to work harder than them to get 50/50 balls, to get rebounds we shouldn’t get.”
The Colonials return to action Thursday when they host Davidson at noon.
This article appeared in the January 28, 2019 issue of the Hatchet.