Preview: Women’s basketball A-10 Championship

Media Credit: File Photo by Dean Whitelaw | Photographer

Freshman center Kayla Mokwuah goes to the hoop during a women's basketball game against Duquesne last week.

Women’s basketball has reached the end of a regular season marred by inconsistency and is gearing up to defend its Atlantic 10 Championship title this week.

In the first round of play, No. 9 GW (10–19, 7–9 A-10) will travel to No. 8 Saint Joseph’s (11–18, 7–9 A-10) Tuesday for a 3 p.m. tip in a rematch of last year’s title match.

The Hawks won their contest against GW this season 41–38 on Feb. 10 in what proved to be a pivotal matchup for A-10 seeding. The teams’ identical 7–9 conference records meant Saint Joseph’s win over GW earlier in the season served as the tiebreaker and gave the squad home-court advantage Tuesday.

“We’re going to be ready no matter what,” Rizzotti said. “We have to play well no matter what. It doesn’t matter who we play or where we play.”

Both teams arrive at Tuesday’s game on a two-game skid. GW dropped a 64–53 decision to Duquesne on Feb. 27 and lost to Richmond 56–48 on Saturday. The Hawks fell 68–59 to George Mason and 51–41 to Fordham last week.

The last time the two teams met, the Colonials mustered just four points in the first quarter and turned the ball over 19 times in the game. They managed to outrebound the Hawks 40–28 and held them to 25.0 percent shooting from three-point range.

Saint Joseph’s senior guard Alyssa Monaghan has been a dominant force in conference play for the Hawks. She averages 16.3 points per game in A-10 contests, the second-highest in the league. Monaghan is also the league’s best three-point shooter in conference games, knocking down 47.4 of her shots from deep.

GW’s three-point defense is the third-best in the A-10 this year with opponents shooting 27.2 percent from beyond the arc against the Colonials, giving them the chance to shut Monaghan down Tuesday. She was held to eight points in the meeting earlier this year.

“I definitely need to be focused and to know the scout, to be patient on offense, to run the offense the right way,” sophomore forward Neila Luma said after the loss to Richmond. “I think that if we go back to the basics and just keep doing what we’re doing, then we’ll be fine.”

Should the Colonials win in the first round, they will head to Duquesne, the host site for the championship, to face off against No. 1 VCU (21–8, 13–3 A-10) Friday at 11 a.m. The Rams are the top seed in the conference but were defeated by GW 57–48 on Jan. 23.

Eight GW players scored in the game and GW held VCU to 30.2 percent shooting from the field. Senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista led all scorers with 21 points while adding five assists.

Sophomore guard Tera Reed, who leads the Rams in scoring with 12.3 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, was limited to seven points and went 2-for-10 from the floor against the Colonials.

VCU is one of the most dangerous teams in the conference but the Colonials have shown they have the potential to compete with anyone and would certainly have a chance to cause an upset if they make it to Friday’s game. VCU, No. 4 Dayton and No. 3 Duquesne all fell at the hands of the Colonials earlier this year.

But despite notching wins over tough conference opposition, a loss to Richmond and a pair of losses to local rival No. 7 George Mason raise the question of which GW team will show up Tuesday.

The Colonials struggled to string together wins last month, closing out February with a 2-5 record on the month after having a near-perfect January going 6-3. The Colonials enter this year’s tournament as the lowest scoring team in the A-10 with an average of 51.3 points per game.

Last year, GW entered the A-10 Championship as the fifth seed and managed to win the tournament for the seventh time in program history, the most of any A-10 school. Bautista had seven assists and zero turnovers in the title game while senior guard Kelsi Mahoney contributed 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

Without a scorer like 2018 graduate Brianna Cummings, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player last year, a young GW team will need to find a balance of scoring between Bautista, Mahoney, Luma and freshman center Kayla Mokwuah. Mokwuah has become a more central figure to GW’s offense of late and her ability to control the post area could be key to the Colonials’ chances.

The hottest team entering the championship is No. 2 Fordham (22–8, 13–3 A-10), a squad riding a nine-game winning streak. Redshirt sophomore Bre Cavanaugh has tallied 16.7 points per game over the course of the year while the Rams’ defense has held opponents to 54.6 points per game. Only No. 1 VCU, which allows 50.8 points per game, has a better defense than Fordham.

No. 7 George Mason (16–13, 8–8 A-10) is a dark horse to watch out for in the championship. The Patriots got off to a 0–3 start in conference play but are powered by sophomore guard Nicole Cardano-Hillary, who ranks 17th in the country averaging 20.75 points per game. The former A-10 Rookie of the Year dropped a career-high 30 points last time out against La Salle and will be the player to watch in this year’s championship.

Anything can happen in tournament play and the Colonials proved that last year. Heading into the championship this week, the squad will look to squeak by the Hawks in the first round of play and continue their championship run.

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