Key takeaways from women’s basketball’s exhibition game

Media Credit: Dean Whitelaw | Staff Photographer

Center Kayla Mokwuah prepares to pass the ball during the game against Mercyhurst Sunday. In their first exhibition game of the season, the Colonials beat the Lakers 75–37.

Women’s basketball made a strong preseason debut in its exhibition game Sunday, trouncing Division II foe Mercyhurst.

The squad outscored the Lakers more than 2-to-1. GW never relinquished the lead, stifling any hope of a Mercyhurst comeback and winning 75–37.

Despite the blowout scoreline, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said the game provides the team with valuable film to evaluate its play and talk through improvements to implement ahead of other nonconference games. The exhibition does not count toward the Colonials’ record.

“Even though we made some mistakes and there were times where I didn’t feel great about our efficiency, I thought our effort and engagement was really high,” Rizzotti said.

Here are the key takeaways from the first look at the team this season.

1. Defensive prowess remains potent

The Colonial defense, which ranked No. 4 in the Atlantic 10 in average points allowed per game last season, picked up where it left off once the 2018-19 season ended.

The team had no difficulty dictating game pace on the defensive end. Mercyhurst struggled to keep up, shooting 26.9 percent from the field and only scoring two second-chance points. The squad also held the Lakers to only 12 points in the paint.

Redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, but the team adjusted quickly and no one earned more than two personal fouls. Despite the dominant performance, Rizzotti said the Lakers exposed the need for forwards to guard the perimeter and improve communication to work more cohesively.

“We’ve really been stressing that in practice,” Rizzotti said. “We can’t be mind readers. We have to have constant verbal communications going on throughout the entire defense for us to be able to reach our peak.”

2. Testing lineups with added depth

Rizzotti said she used the exhibition to test different lineups and give different players the opportunity to gain experience on the court. Junior forward Neila Luma did not take the court during the game, but Rizzotti said she will be expected to start in the Colonials’ season opener.

“Obviously without Neila in the rotation, it changed up a little bit of how I want to make those rotations,” she said. “So her coming back in, she will be playing and starting in opening night. It’ll probably give us a little bit better balance with our rotation. But it’s pretty nice to look down the bench and see the guys that we have ready to play that don’t start.”

Freshman forward Faith Blethen and freshman guard Essence Brown spent time on the court along with redshirt junior guard Sydney Zambrotta. The duo split the point guard responsibilities for the Colonials.

Rizzotti said Brown, Blethen and redshirt freshman forward Mayowa Taiwo shined on defense. The trio accounted for five steals and 20 rebounds.

3. GW shines in the paint, struggles from charity stripe

The Colonials outscored the Lakers 46–12 in the paint.

“We’re emphasizing balanced scoring,” Rizzotti said. “So when you have four people in double figures, then it’s a good night for us.”

Sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah notched a team-leading 14 points.

While the Colonials strived for balanced scoring, they struggled to put points on the board outside the paint. Their ability to convert free throws experienced a steep decline throughout the game, dropping from 62.5 percent at the end of the first quarter to 30 percent at the end of the fourth quarter. The squad combined for a total of 12-of-28 from the free-throw line.

“That’s definitely just something that we have to work on individually and as a team just to get better at being under pressure when we’re tired,” Brown said.

4. Cold from behind the arc

While the Colonials had little trouble toppling with Mercyhurst in the paint, their performance from beyond the arc was inconsistent. At the half, the Colonials shot at a .375 clip from three-point range. But GW did not make another three-pointer for the rest of the game and finished 3-for-16 from behind the arc.

“We have to adapt during the game,” Zambrotta said. “As you can see, we made three three-pointers out of 16. That’s not good at all. So we definitely have to get in the gym for that.”

The squad performed lower than last season’s average of 5.7 three-pointers per game. Last season’s team shot at a .317 clip.

Despite its setbacks behind the arc, the team shot 45.5 percent from the field, 10 percent higher than its average last season.

5. All hands on deck

GW spread the ball out and finished the game with four players recording double-digit scoring. Nearly every player scored in the 75-point effort. Only sophomore guard Maddie Loder remained scoreless in 18 minutes of play.

The squad dished out 14 assists, an increase from last year’s average of 12 per game, and Zambrotta and Brown led the team with three apiece. Every Colonial grabbed at least one rebound and accumulated 49 boards as a team.

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