Women’s basketball gears up for A-10 tournament after string of conference wins

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The Colonials' resounding 68–39 victory over the George Mason Patriots this season marked the largest A-10 win since the Colonials routed the Patriots by 31 points in 2017.

After starting Atlantic 10 play with just one victory in its first 10 games, women’s basketball ended its A-10 slate with four straight wins ahead of the conference tournament.

The Colonials (8-13, 5-9 A-10) secured a No. 11 A-10 tournament playoff berth, three places lower than the squad’s seeding last year, for a date with No. 14 George Mason Wednesday. GW routed its last four conference opponents, winning each of their games by 15-plus points, firing at a 45.7 percent clip and holding opponents to just 41.8 points per game in that time frame.

“It’s just been nice to have a little bit more of a balanced scoring attack on the offensive end, but we’ve definitely taken the most strides on the defensive end,” head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said after the team’s regular season finale against Fordham Thursday.

The Colonials tallied a 3-4 nonconference record, winning their first two games over Lincoln and Old Dominion before hitting a three-game slide and capping the regular season with a loss to Fordham.

A comeback victory over Delaware sent the squad into conference play on a positive note. But GW initially struggled in conference play, opening the season with a loss to Davidson Jan. 1.

Redshirt junior guard Gabby Nikitinaite became eligible at the start of the A-10 slate. After averaging 3.3 points per contest in her first four games, Nikitinaite found her stride as the season closed, averaging 11 points an outing in her final four games.

The team went on to lose against No. 1 and No. 2-seeded Dayton and Fordham, respectively. The program struggled to score from the three-point line in its first nine games, going 23-of-127 from distance.

The Colonials captured their first win of conference play against George Mason Jan. 17 in a resounding 67–47 victory.

The team would not find its way back into the win column until Feb. 12 against Duquesne. In the monthlong span in between, the Colonials dropped five straight games and then postponed two games after a member of the team tested positive for COVID-19.

The squad came back from its brief five-day pause refreshed, and its offense took on a new life, averaging 61.5 points – 7.8 points more than its 53.7 points per game average in its previous 10 A-10 matchups. In the team’s last five games of the season, the squad connected on 40 percent of its attempted triples.

“There have been good days, there have been bad days, but overall we’ve been climbing slowly,” Nikitnaite said after the team’s win over George Mason Feb. 28. “We still haven’t achieved all. We can get to higher places, but we’re taking it day by day, and I know we can be better every day.”

During the team’s four-game win streak, the Colonials dominated their second matchup against the Patriots, marking the largest A-10 win since an 80–49 victory over George Mason in 2017. The Colonials bullied the Patriots defensively, forcing 24 turnovers to score an additional 26 points to cap their largest win of the season 68–39.

“We’re going to take one game at a time,” Rizzotti said. “We expect there to be a fight against George Mason. We understand that it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. Every game is different now.”

The Colonials are heading into the tournament off a four game conference win streak, but they endured a nonconference 48–43 loss to Fordham Thursday. Rizzotti said redshirt sophomore forward Mayowa Taiwo was the “common denominator” for the team’s strides this season, like holding Fordham to a season-low 48 points and allowing just four three-point buckets to a team that averages nine per game.

Taiwo suffered a lower body injury in the team’s first meeting with George Mason, missing all five games during the team’s skid. She returned to the court, and the squad has won all but one game with her in the starting five.

In the stretch of five games Taiwo missed, the Colonials allowed 62.8 points a game on 42.9 percent shooting from the floor. Since Taiwo’s return, the Colonials have allowed 41.8 points a game on 32.4 percent from the field.

In addition to Taiwo, freshman center Ali Brigham emerged as a threat in the post, scoring 12 points per game on 50.7 percent shooting on the season. Graduate student guard Jasmine Whitney and redshirt junior forward Neila Luma sit No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the team in minutes per game and are the only two players to start all 21 games.

Whitney tallied 100 assists for the fourth time in her career and nabbed 61 steals as she led the offense. Luma rips a team-leading 6.3 boards a contest and averages 8.2 points.

“It’s win or go home,” Luma said after the game against Fordham. “We’re all pretty much feeling that heading in these games are really important. And we’re going to need to be sharp and to carry everything that we’ve learned into these games because we want to win.”

With two victories already in the books, the Colonials will look to complete the trifecta over No. 14 George Mason. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m. in Richmond.

Nuria Diaz contributed reporting.

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