After losing three top scorers, women’s squad looks to patch up offensive holes

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee

The women's basketball team has employed possession-by-possession analytics to optimize their offense this season.

Women’s basketball head coach Jennifer Rizzotti is trying to bolster a team with one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the country that just lost its three top scorers.

The squad averaged 56.1 points per game – good for 330th out of 348 Division I programs and No. 13 of 14 in the Atlantic 10. The squad lost its top three scorers in graduate student forward Alexandra Maund, redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke and sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah.

But Rizzotti said the squad has the right combination of experienced guards and athletic forwards to move the ball quickly up the court and play faster offense.

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“We have mobile post players that can get up and down the floor,” she said. “And that’s what we’ve been working on a lot is just being able to increase the amount of possessions in a fun but also disciplined way so that we can put more points on the board.”

The three former players accounted for 47 percent of the team’s points last year. Maund graduated while Hyduke and Mokwuah transferred out of GW to Drexel and TCU, respectively. Turnovers contributed to GW’s scoring woes – the team coughed up the ball 15.4 times per game.

“Unfortunately, last year with a young team – a team with young and new guards – we turned the ball over a lot when we played fast,” Rizzotti said. “So we ended up having to slow the game down a little bit to be more efficient later in the season.”

Rizzotti added that the team’s main focus was on offense during the offseason. She said coaches have used possession-by-possession analytics, which allowed the staff to break down the team’s performance per possession to help optimize the strategy this season.

She said the experience young players like sophomore forward Faith Blethen, sophomore guard Essence Brown and redshirt sophomore forward Mayowa Taiwo, coupled with the returning skillset of older players, could help produce a fruitful season.

The additions of graduate student guard Jasmine Whitney and freshman center Ali Brigham could be key to sparking the team’s attack, Rizzotti added. Redshirt junior forward Neila Luma, who suffered a season-ending injury in the fifth game of last season, is also another cog in the squad’s offense they didn’t have a season ago.

Whitney joined the Colonials from Pitt, where she ranks No. 9 on the program’s all-time assists list. She arrived at GW during the spring semester, giving her extra time to build chemistry with her teammates before she became eligible to play.

Rizzotti said Whitney will likely be the squad’s primary ball handler this year. But the guard said her conversations with Rizzotti have been focused on the team’s strategy, not her individual playstyle.

“We’re focused on how the team can score and how the team can get some points on the board, get some stops on defense,” Whitney said. “So we’ve put an emphasis on playing faster, playing fast but smart.”

Luma was the team’s top-scorer during the 2018-19 season, tallying 10.4 points per game. While the injury to her knee prevented her from being on the floor for much of last year, she said she was still able to improve her game by watching film and watching from the sidelines.

“I feel like I learned a lot being on the side, and obviously it wasn’t easy for me to not be on the court,” Luma said. “But I learned a lot of lessons, and I feel like I gained experience because I was able to see what worked and didn’t work on offense, and I was able to envision myself in that.”

Blethen emerged as a scoring option for the team in her first season as a Colonial. Blethen appeared in all 30 games and ranked second on the team with 49 assists and 35 made three-pointers.

Blethen said she has been working on upping her shooting percentage and developing a pull-up jumper before the 2020-21 season tips off.

“I’m a lot more comfortable already, both on the offensive and defensive ends, just having a full season under my belt with Coach Rizzotti,” Blethen said. “I feel really ready for my sophomore season as a player.”

Standing at 6 feet, 1 inch tall, Blethen also has energy and endurance from a background as a three-time All-Conference cross country runner in high school. Her activity on the defensive end had her leading the team with 33 steals during her freshman campaign.

Graduate student guard Sydney Zambrotta will return to Foggy Bottom after posting 8.0 points per game last year and dishing out 49 assists, providing more experience in the backcourt. Junior guard Maddie Loder was the team’s primary ball handler during her freshman year due to a season-ending injury to Hyduke, and Rizzotti said she is another option in the rotation.

With an experienced core of returners, Zambrotta said the squad is looking to play faster, pushing the ball in transition to net points before the defense is set.

“Coach Rizzotti has been talking to us about transition, so pushing the ball back up the court to try and get primary and secondary transitions in, and if you can’t get any of that, settle down and run offense,” she said.

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