Following the formula that carried it through the first three rounds of the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament, George Washington again combined ball security with creating points off turnovers for a 65-49 win against Saint Joseph’s in Sunday afternoon’s championship game.
The triumph at Richmond Coliseum secured an NCAA tournament berth for the fifth-seeded Colonials (19-13), who had four players score in double figures, including a game-high 17 points along with five rebounds and five assists from Brianna Cummings.
The senior guard was named tournament most outstanding player in pushing George Washington to a third Atlantic 10 crown in four seasons and a seventh victory overall in its past eight games.
“It doesn’t get much better than that for a Division I athlete,” Cummings said. “This is all we wanted all year. Just so proud of my teammates, my coaches, everybody. We worked hard for this, and it’s just paying off right now. I’m just excited, on top of the world at this moment.”
Also contributing significantly to the Colonials’ recent run of prosperity has been Mei-Lyn Bautista, although the junior has done so in ways more impactful than just scoring.
The point guard had a game-high seven assists without a turnover against the sixth-seeded Hawks (18-14), completing the Atlantic 10 tournament with 26 assists and zero turnovers and joining Cummings on the all-tournament team.
With 10 turnovers in the tournament final, the Colonials narrowly missed a fourth consecutive game in the single digits. They did, however, hold an 18-4 advantage in points off turnovers, finishing the tournament with a 71-19 margin overall in that category.
“The whole season we’ve been overlooked,” Bautista said. “A lot of people didn’t think we could do it. Coming in as the fifth seed, a lot of people still didn’t think we could do it. We said, ‘It’s just a number.’ It doesn’t define our hearts. It doesn’t define how much we want it. It doesn’t define how hard we’re going to play. So we’re going to go out there and show everyone what we’re made of.”
George Washington beat the Hawks for a fifth consecutive time and limited its longtime league rival to 0 for 8 from beyond the arc in a game the Colonials trailed for only 65 seconds.
A 6-0 run to close the first quarter put George Washington ahead to stay, with the final basket in that time the result of a live-ball turnover that led to Chyna Latimer’s layup off an assist from Bautista.
The closest Saint Joseph’s came in the second half was 36-31 with 5:31 to go in the third quarter, but the Colonials countered with seven in a row, including a three-pointer from forward Kelsi Mahoney, the third GW player voted to the all-tournament team.
Mahoney scored all 12 of her points on three-pointers, sinking 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. The junior came back after rolling her ankle in the first half to make a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter, the second of which stretched the margin to 55-41 with 6:38 to play.
To advance to the Atlantic 10 tournament final, George Washington beat crosstown rival George Mason, 64-59, in the quarterfinals before upsetting top-seeded Dayton on Saturday, 58-53, holding the high-scoring Flyers to 21 points below their season average.
The Colonials committed just one turnover against Dayton and have held four of their past six opponents to fewer than 50 points on the way to securing the 18th NCAA tournament appearance in program history and first under second-year Coach Jennifer Rizzotti, a former all-American point guard who helped Connecticut win its first national championship in 1995.
Rizzotti is taking her seventh team to an NCAA tournament. Her previous six appearances came as the head coach of Hartford, where Rizzotti was named America East coach of the year three times.
“It was an attraction to me to be at a place where they had basketball success and tradition, and you knew that that’s what those kids came to GW for,” Rizzotti said moments before snipping the final four pieces of twine to cut down the netting on the rim in front of the Colonials’ bench. “They came here to play in moments like this, so it’s special.”