This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Brennan Murray.
A lot of basketball coaches preach that strong defense wins games. But the Colonials learned in their match against No. 7 seed Duquesne Friday night that the opposite is also true– weak defense is what causes defeat.
Though not playing with an ideally deep roster, head coach Mike Bozeman was confident that his eight high-energy players could cause problems for tournament foes. But when the Colonials left the court at halftime down 26 points, chances for a comeback looked bleak. And after struggling all night to find a rhythm on defense, GW eventually lost the first tournament game 69-55. The Colonials have not won a conference tournament game since 2008, and fell in the first round last season, as well.
Bozeman was disappointed with the fashion in which his team’s season ended, but remained proud of GW’s their ability to fight through fatigue and a lack of depth all year long.
“At no point did I ever have to push effort. That’s something that a coach never wants to do and that’s a testament to the girls playing hard,” Bozeman said. “I’m very proud of them in that aspect of it.”
From the first seconds of play, it looked as if the Colonials were the team with the competitive edge. After winning the tip, freshman guard Chakecia Miller drove down the court and sunk an easy layup, putting GW on the board first and winning her team the early momentum.
But the Dukes answered immediately. Hitting a bucket of their own, they took the lead and refused to give it back even once over the duration of the game. With an early eight-point run along with a nine-point run that developed just minutes after, the Dukes were able to open up a 14-point lead with just under 13 minutes to play in the half. And the bleeding did not stop there for the Colonials– poor shooting and 10 turnovers on the offensive end, combined with a failure to lock it down on defense, allowed Duquesne to magnify their already large lead. By halftime, the Dukes were up 42-16.
Not only had the Colonials lost the first-half rebounding battle 19-10, but they also allowed their opponent to score 24 points off turnovers, a statistic Bozeman said was as important as any in understanding GW’s loss.
“To be honest, it baffles me,” Bozeman said. “I know we were prepared and we scouted them very well. Obviously we executed the plan better in the second half. The turnovers and the mistakes amounted up and Duquesne was shooting the heck out of the ball.”
As the second half opened, it was evident that the Colonials were not going to find the transfer of momentum they were looking for. GW, via a sloppy pass on the offensive end, turned the ball over on their first possession and allowed the Dukes to quickly get back to increasing their lead. Developing a presence from beyond the arc, Duquesne shooters began to hit three-pointers with consistency, ending the day with a total of eight converted treys.
Though the Colonials answered with play strong enough to keep Duquesne’s starters in the game, they failed to sustain an effective comeback. Despite gritty play over the last 10 minutes, especially from senior forward/guard Tara Booker, GW couldn’t pull within reaching distance of the Dukes. Leading the Colonials, Booker and Miller added 12 and 17 points, respectively, while redshirt junior forward Brooke Wilson pulled down seven boards.
“We held them to 23 percent shooting in the second half and we shot 56 percent in the second half. In reality we shot better than them,” Bozeman said. “Giving them that big cushion in the beginning, in the first half, didn’t help us at all.”
Reflecting on the season, Bozeman said the injuries early on made for an extreme challenge as a coach. He certainly didn’t expect to have to develop a new system as his team gradually dwindled from 13 healthy players to only six at one point.
“The injuries started in the beginning and it there was really a change in how we wanted to play from that point on,” Bozeman said. “It was a season of adjustments and a season of tinkering to try to adjust to losing players.”
Bozeman’s hopes remain high for the direction of the program, despite the early exit from the A-10 tournament. The head coach, who is in the last year of his contract with the team, feels that with a solid recruiting class, some fresh bodies, and the possible return of seniors Booker and Sara Mostafa, the Colonials would be a force in the conference next season.
“I think the future will be very bright if we’re able to keep everything intact,” Bozeman said. “The team could be very, very good next year.”