Women’s basketball gears up for quick turnaround in A-10 Tournament

Media Credit: Jack Borowiak | Staff Photographer

The women's team secured a No. 8 A-10 Tournament playoff berth, a place higher than the squad’s seeding last season.

After riding a three-game skid to kick off Atlantic 10 play, women’s basketball finished the regular season with a trio of double-digit victories.

The Colonials (14-15, 8-8 A-10) secured a No. 8 A-10 Tournament playoff berth, a place higher than the squad’s seeding last year. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said the team focused on finding ways to incrementally improve rather than chasing wins with every game.

“We just haven’t ever gotten complacent,” Rizzotti said. “We really haven’t won enough to get complacent. Even when we started to play better, there is still a sense of, ‘We have a long way to go.’ We kind of changed our mentality to, ‘Let’s just creep there instead of trying to leap in bounds to the finish line.’”

The squad’s nonconference slate challenged the Colonials, and they finished the 13-game spurt 6-7. The Colonials opened the season on the road with a win against Villanova but dropped it’s next two to 2018-19 Ivy League Champions Princeton and Lehigh, respectively.

The squad’s first comeback win of the season came the following game at Memphis when redshirt freshman forward Mayowa Taiwo netted a buzzer-beating layup. Comeback victories have been the Colonials’ bread and butter this year, notching seven come-from-behind wins throughout the season.

The team returned home and was bested by its highest-ranked opponent all season, then-No. 8 Maryland in its highest deficit of the season.

In the first five games of the season, four Colonials were injured at different times, beginning season-long woes that relegated five different GW players to the bench. Injuries sidelined redshirt junior guard Sydney Zambrotta, graduate student guard Ariel Stephenson, graduate student forward Alexandra Maund and sophomore guard Maddie Loder.

Against the Terrapins, the team lost junior forward Neila Luma to injury. She was last season’s leading scorer and a key defender for the squad. She hasn’t stepped on the hardwood since Nov. 20.

Zambrotta and redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke were tasked with splitting ball-handling responsibilities, but with Zambrotta on the bench, Hyduke assumed the point guard responsibilities for the team.

The injuries opened up the lineup for first-year players to take a leading role as Hyduke, Taiwo and freshman forward Faith Blethen procured significant minutes.

The trio played in all 29 games throughout the regular season, and they led the team in average minutes played. Of the players who fired more than 90 shots from deep, Hyduke and Blethen led the team in three-point shooting. With 175 rebounds on the season, Taiwo ranked first on the squad and averages six per game.

Throughout the season, Rizzotti said ball handling was an early focus for the squad after averaging 18.8 turnovers in nonconference play. During the conference portion of their season, the team dropped its turnover rate to 12.9 per game.

Post-play boosted GW’s offense thanks to Maund and sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah, who fire at .504 and .481 clips, respectively, from the floor. The duo averages 19.4 points per game and is second and third, respectively, in rebounds on the team.

A little more than halfway through conference play, Rizzotti pulled out two new strategies for the team – a five-in, five-out substitution system she first implemented against VCU, and a plan to involve the team in scouting and preparing strategies, which she first put into motion before George Mason.

Maund said the Colonials gathered together to parse through the film of the Patriots and themselves to devise ways to prevent the same mistakes that cost them the win in their A-10 opener. She added that it acted as a bonding moment too and sured up the squad’s chemistry moving forward.

“A big thing that has been consistent throughout this entire year is building our chemistry as a team and working together and collaborating because we have so many new pieces,” Maund said after the George Mason game Feb. 15. “It was just another exercise of us coming together and trying to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.”

The substitution strategy allowed the majority of the roster to notch double-digit minutes, which Rizzotti said showed the team’s depth.

“It can be anybody’s night,” Rizzotti said. “Against Duquesne, Ariel hit a bunch of threes for us. Against Rhode Island, Tori hit a bunch of threes for us. Tonight it was Faith and Sydney’s turn to hit our threes. We’re talking about four different players that are capable of spreading the floor for us so we can continue to go to our post players.”

The Colonials finished the season with a 10-point win over Richmond Saturday and are set for a quick turnaround rematch Tuesday.

“Now we turn the page and Richmond is our opponent on Tuesday,” Rizzotti said. “Sometimes that’s easier, sometimes it’s not, but to know exactly what we’re going to face and to be able to stay at home and not travel is a good thing for us, a good thing for our young players. I’m excited for them to play another game at home, especially our seniors.”

With a victory against their upcoming opponent already in the books, the Colonials will look to repeat the feat and advance in the tournament. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

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