March 3, 2023 

‘We decided to win today’: Inside Day 2 of the Atlantic 10 Tournament

Only one upset, but no shortage of drama

WILMINGTON, Del. — The term “March Madness” usually conjures the image of upsets and last-second shots. Day 2 of the Atlantic 10 Tournament had both. Here’s what happened on March 2.

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No. 9 George Mason 64, No. 8 La Salle 58

With its win over La Salle, George Mason has won an A-10 Tournament game for two years in a row for the first time, just two years removed from a winless conference season.

When head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis came to Mason, the team didn’t believe in itself. So in building a culture she focused on what the locker room looks, sounds and feels like. 

“It is about the student first and then the athlete, and if they don’t feel good about being a student, then there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do with them as an athlete,” Blair-Lewis said. “So we had to pour into them, into their spirit, into their soul constantly, and that’s the way I’ve always built our programs: about the student, the person, first.” 

After two days off last week, the Patriots returned to practice “playing” against La Salle each time in the gym.

In their first matchup this season, La Salle shot 12-for-26 from behind the arc, and Mason senior Sonia Smith knew the team couldn’t let that happen again, especially in March. On Thursday, the team limited the Explorers to 6-for-21 shooting from three. The Patriots also won the rebounding battle 45-35 and turned 20 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points.

Mason senior Tamia Lawhorne added that the team’s ability to withstand runs by the Explorers was due to an increased focus now that it’s the postseason. 

“You win or you go home, so we decided to win today,” she said. “We had to have an answer every time or we were gonna get down and we don’t want to do that. We want to keep playing.”

Smith led the team with 18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Six of those fourth-quarter points came from the free throw line, where she went 8-for-8 on the afternoon. 

Mason will take on reigning champions UMass at 11 a.m. on March 3, a rematch of a 21-point loss on Feb. 12. 

Blair-Lewis knows her team can’t get down early like they did two and a half weeks ago, when the Patriots trailed 19-4 after the first 10 minutes. 

“You can’t have any moments off because they can all score. Everyone on the floor can score,” Blair-Lewis said. “So we have to be locked in from the beginning of the game. That was one thing we saw when we played them at home, that we just can’t afford to dig [ourselves] a hole because it’ll be tough to get out of.” 

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No. 5 Richmond 71, No. 12 Dayton 60

Ten ties and 20 lead changes, nine in the third quarter, led to Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell being asked about his heart rate after the game. (He didn’t get any alerts about his heart rate, but he did get some because of the sound levels in Chase Fieldhouse.)

Richmond freshman guard Rachel Ullstrom helped define the game. She scored 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, including two 3-pointers in the final two minutes that Dayton head coach Tamika Williams-Jeter called “daggers.” 

“You never know that Rachel Ullstrom is going to just hit two threes the way that she did, but she’s in the gym enough and we all knew that it was going to happen for her [eventually],” Roussell said. “It’s happened a couple times throughout the year, but the biggest moment of the season, the kid that’s in the gym like the way that she is was really really cool to see as a coach.”

Junior Addie Budnik believes that the two threes put the Spiders over the hump and changed the momentum, extending the lead from two points to eight in 41 seconds. 

Over her last two games, Ullstrom is shooting 11-for-14 from the floor and 3-for-3 from behind the arc. She entered the matchup against Dayton averaging 5.8 points per game. 

With the win, Richmond advances to play Fordham — which beat the Spiders by nine after the Spiders had led by 12 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter on Jan. 25 — on March 3 at 1:30 p.m. Though the Rams’ press bothered Richmond on Jan. 25, Roussell believes his team has learned from that game as well as other games and practices since. He added that his team’s confidence and joy are now greater than at any other point this season.

“There was a valuable lesson that was learned in the Bronx that Wednesday night, and I think all of us knew we let one slip away,” he said. “Fordham earned it, but I think we felt we let one slip away.”

No. 7 George Washington 71, No. 10 Duquesne 68

With 11 seconds left in a game tied at 68, George Washington junior Asjah Innis missed a layup, but redshirt senior Mayowa Taiwo grabbed the offensive rebound. She passed it to graduate student Mia Lakstigala, who knocked down her career-high sixth 3-pointer of the night. That put the Colonials ahead 71-68 and ultimately won the game after Tess Myers missed a last-second 3-pointer. 

“Shoutout [to Mayowa] for getting that rebound,” Lakstigala said after the game. “She works so hard to get those rebounds, so I’m just really proud of her that she was able to get that last one, and when she kicked it out, I knew the time was running down, so all I had to do was shoot it. And I just had confidence in my shot and [knew] those last seconds [were] going down and it went in.” 

Colonials head coach Caroline McCombs believes that, when Lakstigala is feeling good, it’s visible. The team has worked to create opportunities for its guards, including Lakstigala, this season. McCombs noted that Duquesne’s zone defense allowed Lakstigala to get different looks in GW’s system to get threes. 

GW senior Nya Lok entered the matchup having scored in double figures in four of the team’s last five games. She had three points on 1-for-2 shooting entering the third quarter, when she went 4-for-4 from the floor and totaled 11 points. Lok finished with 20 points (8-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-3 from behind the arc), eight rebounds and one assist. 

“When it comes to March Madness, you just got to be the tough team,” Lok said. “… Our coaches keep trying to ingrain in us rebounding, the little things, game-winning plays. That’s constantly drilled into our heads. So come March Madness, you got to have game-winning plays, and that’s all I’ve thought of and [I] let the game come naturally to me.”

McCombs noted that Lok has played more minutes since the team’s Feb. 8 matchup against Rhode Island, which has given her more confidence.

“Late in that fourth quarter … she’s holding the ball and we’re like, ‘Drive it,’ and she did,” McCombs said. “She got that lane line drive. That was huge for us. We know that [when] her feet are set, she can knock down those threes. So we have a ton of confidence in Nya, and I’m happy that she was able to show that to everybody today.”

The Colonials will take on Rhode Island at 5 p.m. on March 3. 

No. 6 Saint Joseph’s 64, No. 11 Davidson 53

Saint Joseph’s head coach Cindy Griffin believes the reason her team is advancing to play Saint Louis at 7:30 p.m. on March 3 is simple. “We shot the ball very well when we needed to shoot the ball,” she said to wrap up her opening statement.

The Hawks scored nine straight points to open their second-round game against Davidson, making four of their first six field goals. After Davidson pulled ahead by five, Saint Joseph’s made four of its next five shots to close out the first half with a two-point lead. 

“I think any positive momentum swing going into halftime is really beneficial for any group,” Saint Joseph’s sophomore Mackenzie Smith said. “But I think for us, it really set the tone of we’re here, and we’re here to get it done. So we keep pushing forward.” 

Saint Joseph’s cemented its lead with a 16-0 run over the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. 

“I think we were doing a better job getting stops on defense,” sophomore Talya Brugler said. “And that momentum from our defensive end was shifting to the offense, which was helping us get open shots or just run in transition and get the looks that we were looking for.”

Saint Joseph’s, who returned most of its team from last year’s A-10 Tournament semifinals run, believes that run helped set the team up for success this season. 

One lesson Brugler learned from last season is the importance of taking care of your body after each game. “We expect to be playing here on Sunday,” she said. “So that’s four games in four days. So just doing the things off the court that can help us recover.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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