Pittsburgh, PA— George Washington enters Atlantic 10 Championship play in a position it is accustomed to, on a recent string of momentum and now prepared to host a first round game Tuesday night against La Salle as the fifth overall seed in the conference.
February has been rather kind to GW, as it earned seven wins and suffered a narrow loss at Dayton before this most recent Richmond defeat.
“I think we have gotten a lot better on the defensive end of the floor,” George Washington coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “Our confidence there has been good and we have been able to score in transition more because we have been rebounding better. We have gotten more comfortable with each other on the offensive end, maybe minus the last two games. We also have gotten Kelli (Prange) back into our seven or eight-person rotation. Obviously having a senior who is a double-figure scorer and potentially double-figure rebounder every night, certainly helps on both ends as well.”
The signs certainly were there although Rizzotti believes the turning point from this regular season actually came with a loss.
“I felt like when we went out to Dayton the first time we played them, I’m not sure anybody really knew how good we were going to be,” said Rizzotti. “Although we lost the game, there was definitely some optimism that we were able to be fairly competitive for about 30 minutes with the best team in the league. I remember specifically looking at our schedule at that point and saying ‘we could go 5-0 in this next stretch before we play Dayton again’. And we ended up losing to Saint Louis in overtime, but otherwise we were 4-1 in that stretch. I think we gained some confidence once we started to pick up a few wins in the A-10 and play some of the teams at the top really tough and that certainly translated to us playing with more confidence in February.”
GW has been led by Brianna Cummings and Mei-Lyn Bautista who each have been leaders on this team and have consistently achieved success throughout the season. Prange also has been the first off the bench while Neila Luma has found some success as a freshman post that has consistently been named a starter.
La Salle comes into this game having lost its last five games, though it battled with George Mason, ultimately losing that contest by 10 points.
“I think La Salle is kind of a dangerous team,” Rizzotti said. “They have a lot of size, more than most teams in the A-10, and Amy Griffin is one of the most dynamic players in the league that can play both sides of the ball. I think when you have a senior that is playing in their last go about, it can be dangerous. And when you have size you have to do a good job of being determined on the glass. I thought we did a great job the last time we played them. We limited Amy to some tough shots late in the game. We rebounded well and got their post players in foul trouble. We have to have the same mindset about being aggressive and getting on the glass with all five.”
GW and success have gone hand in hand during Atlantic 10 Championship play and prior to Dayton winning the title this past year, the Colonials had won the past two years.
Though Rizzotti is in just her second season with the program, she is well aware of this tradition.
“I think the tradition of what our teams and program have done in the past and understanding that the standard is really high and our kids are eager to live up to it,” she said. “They know how competitive the league is and some of these guys know how hard it is to win a championship in the A-10. It is always exciting to get to that point where you know you are a few games away from the end of the season and you can leave it all out there. I feel this team is pretty focused in on ending the right way and we would certainly love to add to the GW legacy.”