RICHMOND, Va. - A complete team effort filled with timely shooting and tight defense led George Washington to its third Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Championship in four years as the fifth-seeded Colonials defeated sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's, 65-49, for the 2018 title Sunday afternoon at the Richmond Coliseum.
With the game tied at ten, freshman Neila Luma's jumper ignited a 10-0 Colonials run to build a lead they never relinquished, as George Washington (19-13) played disciplined basketball, committing just seven personal fouls and limiting Saint Joseph's (18-14) to three free throw attempts during the contest.
The Hawks, who were led by Amanda Fioravanti's twelve points, trailed by eight points at halftime and drew within five on a Kristalyn Baisden jumper to make the score 36-31 with 5:31 left in the third quarter. George Washington answered with a 7-0 run, including another critical three-pointer from Kelsi Mahoney, to stretch the lead back to twelve points.
Mahoney's final trey of the championship, with 6:38 remaining in the game, stretched the Colonials' lead to fourteen, beginning a final 7-0 run to seal the title and the league's automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.
George Washington head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, in her second season, handed complete credit to her players, led by a senior class who spent
last offseason preparing to atone for an early exit from last year's Atlantic 10 Championship, when they bowed out in the quarterfinals.
"We came back from this tournament (last year), and it started then, even before the WNIT. I said
first year is over, you're going to get the real Coach Rizzotti now," the head coach recalled. "I've been really hard on them, but I love them, and they know I do. I demand excellence in a way that is consistent...and they've had my back through it all."
Cummings, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Championship, led the Colonials with 17 points and five rebounds, while Kelli Prange added 14, and Kelsi Mahoney, who was also named to the All-Championship Team with Cummings and point guard Mei-Lyn Bautista, went four of six from three-point range to finish a week filled with key long-distance shooting performances with 12 points.
"The great thing is that my teammates had confidence in me to knock down shots. The whole team works tirelessly to get the team great shots, and when your number is called, you step up," Mahoney noted.
Bautista completed a dream scenario for a point guard, dishing out 26 assists in four tournament victories without committing a turnover.
"To play in this tournament and have zero turnovers, I'm very proud, but I'm not satisfied," Bautista said. "Coach Rizzotti's always telling me to take care of the ball, and when we take care of the ball as a team, we win."
Both teams went 24-for-51 from the floor in the game, but while the Colonials nailed five treys, the Hawks didn't connect from beyond the arc. That, combined with a tight defensive set by George Washington to deny Fioravanti, Chelsea Woods and Adashia Franklyn shot opportunities in the paint, made for difficult possessions for Saint Joseph's, allowing the Colonials to launch their critical scoring runs.
Also hurting Saint Joseph's chances was the loss of Sarah Veilleux, who was injured in the first minute of the third period and did not return, scoring only two points.
"Not only does she make shots for us, but she spaces the floor for our bigs," Saint Joseph's head coach Cindy Griffin said, explaining Veilleux's importance in the Hawks' offensive scheme. "It was very crowded down there today, so they
double teamed Woods every time she caught the ball. So that impacted what we did offensively and when you're not scoring on one end, your defense tends to suffer on the other end."
George Washington's victory marks their seventh Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Championship, the most in Atlantic 10 history. Saint Joseph's is now 3-9 all-time in Atlantic 10 finals.
Joining Cummings, Bautista
and Mahoney on the All-Championship Team were Woods, who scored 74 points in four games, and Jackie Kemph of Saint Louis.