Post dominance, rebounding advantage have lifted Colonials to the top of the Atlantic 10.
By James Irwin
The shots weren’t falling, a rarity for the most accurate shooting team in the Atlantic 10 conference. Time and again, the Colonials came down the floor, their attempts off the mark. By halftime, the George Washington women’s basketball team had missed 33 of 44 shots from the field.
The Colonials also were winning by 15 points, on their way to a 67-48 road win over La Salle, boosted by a rebounding advantage that has become a hallmark of Jonathan Tsipis’ coaching tenure.
Since arriving in Foggy Bottom in 2012, Mr. Tsipis has molded his teams into rebounding machines, targeting good rebounders in recruiting and emphasizing it in every drill at practice. Winning the battle on the glass has gone a long way to tilting games in GW’s favor, as it did at La Salle, where a 63-38 rebounding edge erased an unusually poor shooting day.
“Since I’ve gotten here I always felt [rebounding] was something you could emphasize and control,” said Mr. Tsipis, whose Colonials won their 17th straight game Saturday at George Mason and on Tuesday earned their first Associated Press Top 25 ranking in nearly seven years.
GW vs. Davidson
When: Thursday, 11 a.m.
Where: Charles E. Smith Center
TV: Comcast SportsNet
GW vs. Dayton
When: Sunday, noon
Where: Charles E. Smith Center
TV: CBS Sports Network
Entering play Wednesday, GW is second in the NCAA in rebounding margin, first in the A-10 in scoring margin and second in the conference in scoring defense. It is a team-wide mentality, Mr. Tsipis said. Nine Colonials play at least 11 minutes a game in his substitution-heavy rotation. GW also benefits from having perhaps the A-10’s most imposing frontcourt, anchored by a trio of post players who have provided the Colonials with the size and strength to bully opponents on the inside.
“That’s something we focus on everyday—rebounding and going hard to the glass,” said 6-foot-5 freshman Kelli Prange. “We don’t necessarily get every rebound but we try to.”
Ms. Prange, 6-foot-4 junior Jonquel Jones and 6-2 sophomore Caira Washington form an efficient—sometimes dominant—frontcourt for GW. They average better than 37 points and 25 rebounds a game. Their skillsets complement one another, said Mr. Tsipis, who generally keeps two of them on the floor and rotates the third off the bench to keep them fresh.
“I think how they’ve meshed together, that part has worked better than I could have thought,” he said.
Ms. Jones, among the conference leaders in points and rebounds, is at home inside or away from the basket, where she has range out to 20 feet. Ms. Washington, last season’s A-10 rookie of the year, is a rangy, athletic inside scorer who has shot better than 53 percent from the floor during her college career. The emergence of Ms. Prange, who, like Ms. Jones, excels in the high post but also plays with power near the basket, has given GW the depth to wear down opposing teams. When the Colonials shoot well, as they did Saturday at George Mason, games can quickly turn into routs. When GW struggles, the rebounding advantage can mask mistakes.
Atlantic 10 player of the year candidate Jonquel Jones has 12 double-doubles this season and leads the conference in rebounding, averaging 11.9 a game.
“We stress winning the rebounding war, especially when we’re playing against teams that emphasize post play and have strong post players,” Ms. Jones said. “If we don’t have a good shooting night we’re able to lock in on defense and rebounding and have that carry us through.”
Mr. Tsipis uses his options thoughtfully. He has built an up-tempo team with a physical advantage inside, a rare combination. When opposing guards get into the lane, they usually run into a wall of blue and settle for a contested jump shot instead of pushing to the basket. Opponents game plan around containing Ms. Jones, an A-10 player of the year candidate who is “dominant inside with her length,” Ms. Washington said. But she, like every player on the roster, spends at least one-third of the game on the bench. Depth has allowed GW to be more aggressive, Mr. Tsipis said.
“We’re always rotating in a post [player] during substitutions to try and keep everybody fresh,” he said. “Whether Kelli comes in for J.J. or Caira, I’m getting a look at all three combinations during a game to see which one is going to be really effective.”