Preview: Women’s basketball vs. Princeton

What: Women’s basketball vs. Princeton
Where: Smith Center, Washington, D.C.
When: Sunday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.

When women’s basketball takes on Princeton Sunday, it will be the third consecutive year head coach Jennifer Rizzotti takes on head coach Courtney Banghart. The teams have split the previous two meetings, but the Colonials lead the all time head-to-head matchups, 5-3.

When they faced off at Princeton last season, the Tigers ran by the Colonials in a convincing 72-52 victory. But Princeton will be without their top three scorers from last season on Sunday afternoon in a game which figures to be a tight match between two teams with top defenses.

The Colonials were the toughest offense to score against in the Atlantic 10 last season, holding opponents to a conference-low 54.1 points per game. The Tigers held opponents in the Ivy League to 55.1 points per game, the second-lowest total in their conference.

Case for the Colonials:

The Colonials offense appeared lackluster in their season-opening 50-37 road loss to James Madison Thursday night, shooting just 23.5 percent from the field (12-for-51) and missing 11 free throws against one of the nation’s top mid-major programs that returned all five starters from a season ago.

In an uncharacteristic manner, the Colonials also airballed multiple wide open looks and missed easy layups. Alongside senior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista (10 points), sophomore forward Neila Luma (11 points) looked more comfortable as the go-to options on offense, which should carry over well on their home court.

Senior forward Kelsi Mahoney, the team’s leading three-point shooter last season, was cold from beyond the arc against the Dukes, going 1-for-8 from distance. Mahoney shot 36 percent from the three-point line last season, so her inability to convert was out of character for the senior. Given her track record, Mahoney’s open looks should be falling Sunday.

Rizzotti said the Colonials did a “nice job” against the Dukes Thursday on defense, holding an explosive offense that averaged 63.9 points per game last season to just the half-century mark. If GW is able to repeat the same kind of performance defensively and knock down some open shots and free throws, they could present a challenge to Princeton.

Case for the Tigers:

The Tigers, the defending Ivy League champions, were selected to repeat in the 2018-19 Ivy League Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll. With six Ivy League titles in the past nine years, Princeton presents another challenging non-conference opponent for Rizzotti, who has emphasized the importance of playing a tough schedule early in the season.

Princeton opened the 2018-19 season on the road against Rider Tuesday and took a solid win, 89–65, despite playing without star junior forward Bella Alaire, who will miss a significant amount of time with a broken bone in her right arm.

The Tigers are also without 2018-graduate forward Leslie Robinson who averaged 10.2 points per game and sophomore guard Abby Meyers, who has to take a separation year from the program for violation of the school’s academic policy.

Banghart brings in a deep roster that did not miss a beat without the 6-foot-4-inch Alaire on the floor. Her starting lineup against the Broncs included 5-foot-10-inch senior guard Gabrielle Rush, who poured in a career-high 25 points in just 22 minutes in the season opener, including 5-for-7 shooting from deep. The senior who did not start any games last year seems to have made a jump from her 6.1 points per game scoring average a season ago.

It was a balanced team effort for Princeton Tuesday night, as no starter played more than 28 minutes, and 10 of the 13 healthy players on the active roster saw the court, with each playing at least 11 minutes.

The Colonials will be tasked with zeroing in on Rush individually, but Princeton’s backcourt, which also houses 5-foot-9-inch sophomore guard Carlie Littlefield and 5-foot-11-inch freshman guard Grace Stone, could present a match up problem for 5-foot-6-inch Bautista on the defensive end.

The Bottom Line:

The Colonials should look much more comfortable playing on in front of their home crowd, but their offense, with seven newcomers, continues to build chemistry and work through early-season rust. Likewise, Princeton is also learning to adjust to playing without its major contributors from last season, and it remains to be seen how they will fare against tougher competition. Sunday’s clash between two of the top mid-majors in college basketball will likely come down to the wire.

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