Women’s basketball relies on experienced players to generate consistency this year

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee

The women's basketball team will lean heavily on graduate student guards Jasmine Whitney and Sydney Zambrotta, junior guard Maddie Loder and redshirt junior forward Neila Luma.

After spending the latter half of last season swapping out players every few minutes, women’s basketball head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she has a team with the trappings to be consistent offensively and defensively.

Last year was characterized by a five-in, five-out subbing strategy that allowed 11 players to average more than 10 minutes per game. Rizzotti said she used the technique to make up for inconsistency among her players, but she doesn’t expect the same issue this year as she’ll be able to lean on a handful of dependable players.

“There weren’t a ton of players that were showing up every day where I knew what they were going to give me every single night,” she said. “So it allowed me to have some flexibility to make sure that I played guys and gave them a chance to have a great night.”

Rizzotti said last season, players would earn game time by performing well in practice, but they often couldn’t maintain a high level of play throughout the season. She added that the team will settle into a rotation of seven or eight players and nine or 10 will be ready to go if the squad needs added depth.

“This year, we’ll have a little bit better rotations in terms of players that are consistent and have more experience and understand what they need to bring to the table every day,” Rizzotti said.

A consistent player Rizzotti pointed to on last year’s squad was graduate student forward Alexandra Maund. Maund averaged 24.2 minutes, five rebounds and a team-leading 11.1 points per game in her final year of eligibility.

“It’s not a coincidence that our most consistent guy last year was a fifth-year senior,” Rizzotti said. “Alex was steady every night. I knew what I was going to get from her. She rarely played poorly.”

But without Maund and graduate student guard Ariel Stephenson, who joined the Colonials behind the bench, the team will look to other faces for experience and consistency.

The squad will utilize experienced ball handlers in graduate student guards Jasmine Whitney and Sydney Zambrotta and junior guard Maddie Loder. The return of redshirt junior forward Neila Luma, who produced 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game during the 2018-19 season – her last full season with the team – will also give the Colonials another seasoned veteran down low.

“They understand that they will have consistency, and I think that has shown up in how they prepare over the summer physically, mentally, leadership wise, and then how they have performed in practice so far,” Rizzotti said. “When your upperclassmen are doing what they’re supposed to do every day, then you feel like ‘OK, now this is a group I can build a team around.’”

Rizzotti added that players who only had a year on the hardwood – redshirt sophomore forward Mayowa Taiwo, sophomore forward Faith Blethen and sophomore Essence Brown – also gained valuable playing experience that will help stabilize the team on offense and defense.

“Our nucleus of guys returning just have a better understanding of what being consistent means,” she said.

Taiwo said the squad has a “deep bench” with upperclassmen that will rise to the occasion and provide the consistency the team is looking for.

“We do have some great upperclassmen,” she said. “We had Neila come back, Jasmine finally off the bench, so I think we do have a lot of upperclassmen that will step up and a lot of underclassmen that will hold their own.”

Blethen said the team has not talked about rotations at the moment, but they are currently mixing different groups of people in practice to build chemistry.

“Rizzoti has really focused on everyone having strong chemistry among each other,” Blethen said. “Not just like a certain five being able to play really well together, but she wants us all to be playing really well together.”

In pursuit of consistency, Rizzotti said she recognized that players are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unchecked racial and social injustices happening around the country. She said she wants the team to first show a high level of consistency in their energy and their positivity every day by supporting each other off the court and in practice, and then the squad would worry about the results on the court.

“I told them from the beginning that I wasn’t going to get too upset about basketball mistakes, but I would get upset and if they didn’t come in and exhibit the selfless behavior that we had talked about all offseason,” Rizzotti said.

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