Women’s basketball has been taking on the final stretch of Atlantic 10 play without its floor general.
Senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista, who averages 36 minutes per game and has dished out a team-high 101 assists on the year, has missed the last two contests due to a possible concussion sustained sometime after GW’s 66–59 win over Massachusetts Feb. 20. An athletic department spokesman said he does not know when Bautista will return to play and said she is following “concussion protocol.”
Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti has said Bautista’s energy and leadership on the court is the glue that holds a young Colonials roster together. While GW has collected one win and one loss during her absence, Bautista’s absence comes at a time when wins are crucial for A-10 Championship seeding.
“Mei does pretty much a little bit of everything,” Rizzotti said following a 41–38 loss to Saint Joseph’s. “She’s the one guy whose effort is constantly at 100 percent.”
With only one regular season game remaining, the Colonials occupy the ninth seed in the A-10. The top two seeds get a first-round bye and seeds three through eight get home court advantage in round one.
For the Colonials to get the chance to host a postseason game, they must win their final game against Richmond Saturday and hope that Saint Joseph’s drops their contest against Fordham.
“We have to be ready no matter what,” Rizzotti said. “It’d be great to be able to play one more game at the Smith Center but if we don’t, it doesn’t change our mindset and it certainly doesn’t change our preparation.”
Without her general on the court, Rizzotti said she has been forced to adapt to having Bautista on the bench rather than on the court to try to finish the regular season on a high.
“She’s doing a great job of leading from the sideline, I think it’s been good for our team to learn how to play for her and without her,” Rizzotti said after the team’s loss to Duquesne. “I mean, this is the end of her career so we’ve gotta put ourselves in the best position to help her finish the right way.”
In lieu of Bautista running point, freshman guard Maddie Loder and senior guard Anna Savino ran the floor for the majority of the team’s win over St. Bonaventure. While the duo combined to dish out five assists on the night, they also tallied seven of the team’s 18 turnovers on the night. Loder gave the ball away five times against Duquesne Wednesday.
“It’s two games in a row now where I’ve just asked everybody to step up and help out with ball-handling responsibility,” Rizzotti said. “Mei is just so trustworthy with it, whether it’s against a press or it’s against one-on-one pressure or a zone, she has the comfort and no one else on the team really has that so we’ve asked a lot of Maddie.”
Bautista leads the team in minutes played with 936 despite missing two games, while senior forward Kelsi Mahoney, second on the team in minutes, only recently eclipsed the 800-minute mark last time out against Duquesne. Bautista is second on the team averaging 9.2 points per game, only behind sophomore forward Neila Luma’s 9.9 points per game.
The Colonials have also relied on Bautista’s defensive ability just as much as her play-making ability on the other side of the ball.
GW held St. Bonaventure to fewer than 50 points in a 57–44 win, but against a more potent Duquesne squad, the Colonials surrendered 64 points.
A preseason All-Defensive Team selection for the A-10, Bautista routinely guards the opponent’s best player and has 52 steals on the year, while sophomore forward Neila Luma is the next best with 22 swipes.
As a team, the Colonials are starting to see consistent contributions from multiple players. In their last four outings, at least three players have reached double-digit scoring, the first time in A-10 play more than two players have reached double-digit scoring in back-to-back games.
“For the most part these last two games there have been a lot of guys that have really stepped up and taken on additional responsibility,” Rizzotti said. “And I just feel like that’s going to help us when Mei comes back.”
But even with the Colonials picking up the pace on offense, it will be difficult to make up for Bautista’s postseason experience and leadership.
“Missing a vocal leader in Mei and just an all-around great player defensive and offensively, it’s been really difficult,” Mahoney said. “But this is a time for us to look inward and really ask ourselves what we can bring more and really stop talking and just bring it.”
The Colonials hit the road to take on Richmond Saturday in the final game of the regular season. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m.