After a futile year on the offensive end, women’s basketball is looking to seven new faces on the court to revamp scoring opportunities.
The Colonials mustered just 51.3 points per game last season, its lowest team average in more than 38 years. With an extended bench and fresh faces, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she wants to let go of the shortfalls of last season and maximize the team’s scoring capabilities this year by turning defensive stops into offensive momentum.
“We had experiences that were really good for us to learn from last year, but we have to use a little bit of that disappointment to fuel our hunger going into this season,” Rizzotti said. “We have so many new pieces that I’m not even sure that last year comes up a lot.”
Seven Colonials will see the court for the first time this season, opening new avenues to score points. Freshmen guard Essence Brown and forward Faith Blethen, graduate students guard Ariel Stephenson and forward Alexandra Maund, redshirt junior guard Sydney Zambrotta and redshirt freshmen guard Tori Hyduke and forward Mayowa Taiwo will add to the selection of players who can test out offensive play.
The squad lost two of its top three scorers to graduation. Former players guard Mei-Lyn Bautista and forward Kelsi Mahoney averaged 9.3 and 8.3 points per game, respectively.
But the team still retains junior forward Neila Luma, who led the Colonials’ offense last season with an average of 10.4 points per game. Sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah will also come back after ranking fourth with 6.5 points per game last year.
Rizzotti said the squad lacked scoring depth last season, which caused the team to overuse players like Luma and Mokwuah. Brown, Blethen, Stephenson, Mound, Zambrotta, Hyduke and Taiwo give the team new looks both on the perimeter and in the paint, she said.
“You’ll see a lot more balance this year,” Rizzotti said. “We have the ability to score from every position on the floor.”
In the squad’s exhibition match against Mercyhurst Sunday, nearly every Colonial recorded points and four players hit double-digits.
At the point guard position, the Colonials have added depth, with Hyduke, Zambrotta and sophomore guard Maddie Loder healthy and eligible this season. Zambrotta and Hyduke split the point responsibilities in the exhibition game, gaining the duo off-the-ball experience as well.
Rizzotti said the added depth allows the squad to open up more scoring opportunities at the point guard position.
She added that the squad has several solid three-point shooters but will need to replace its top three from behind the arc after losing them to graduation last year. Mahoney led the pack, shooting at a .360 clip. Guard Anna Savino, who will stay with the team as a graduate assistant, sank 18-for-56 from behind the arc, making her good for second on the team last season. Bautista rounded out the top three with a .313 percentage.
Rizzotti said the team had to play slower and safer last season to protect the ball on the offensive. But she added that she can use the team’s defense to create offensive opportunities with added depth this year by causing turnovers and tacking on extra possessions.
“We will be able to do more things where we force more turnovers within our half-court and full-court defense,” Rizzotti said. “This year, we’ll be able to play faster, more aggressively and dictate the pace a little bit.”
Last year, the Colonials’ defense ranked fourth in the Atlantic 10 in points allowed, only giving up 57.4 points per game. But the squad’s defense caused just 13.2 turnovers per game, second to last in the A-10.
Zambrotta said the Colonials have worked on penetrating inside from the point position and connecting with the forwards in the paint. She said Mokwuah and the two new freshmen will bring a “different perspective to the game,” working together to facilitate the ball.
She added that the team’s extended bench will provide it with more options throughout the season, especially when the team is entrenched in conference competition.
Luma said the added depth helps address the team’s scoring woes by spreading the ball around the court and relieving the team from relying on one or two people to act as offensive producers.
“This year we have a lot of players that can score, we have a lot of versatility,” Luma said. “We’re just working really hard together, it should be a lot easier to put more points up.”