COMMENTARY: Adair Leads Team Revival

CLAIRE SOISSON/THE HOYA Freshman guard Dionna White was tied for top Georgetown scorer with 14.5 points per game and led her team in rebounds with 6.1 per game during her breakout freshman season.

CLAIRE SOISSON/THE HOYA
Freshman guard Dionna White was tied for top Georgetown scorer with 14.5 points per game and led her team in rebounds with 6.1 per game during her breakout freshman season.

Last year, the Georgetown women’s basketball team (16-14, 9-9 Big East) only won four games, finishing with a disappointing 4-27 record in Head Coach Natasha Adair’s inaugural season. This year, it took the Hoyas less than a month to surpass their win total from last season. Georgetown was victorious in five of its first six games — a fitting start to a season that would see the Hoyas repeatedly exceed expectations.

Georgetown opened the season with a 7-3 record in nonconference play, which included two victories in Burlington, Vt., on the way to claiming the TD Bank Classic Championship in a decisive 22-point win over St. Francis Brooklyn (7-22, 4-14 NEC). In the previous season, Georgetown had gone just 2-10 in nonconference play — a discouraging start to a year that contained a nine-game losing streak.

Georgetown began its Big East schedule this season riding the momentum of a convincing 82-46 victory against Towson (7-24, 3-15 CAA). However, the Hoyas were unable to convert that momentum into early conference wins. In its first eight games, Georgetown was able to beat only Creighton (17-18, 8-10 Big East) and Providence (5-24, 1-17 Big East) — leaving the team with a 2-6 Big East record that put it near the bottom of the conference standings.

The Hoyas were set to close out the first half of Big East play with an away matchup at Villanova (20-12, 12-6 Big East) Jan. 24. Georgetown entered the contest having lost four straight games — its longest skid of the season. Determined to put an end to their losing streak, the Hoyas took on the Wildcats with renewed determination. Georgetown went on a 10-2 run over the last three minutes of the game to claim a narrow 57-51 victory and improve to 3-6 in conference play. The win at Villanova was a turning point for Georgetown — it ignited a four-game winning streak that brought the Hoyas’ conference record to 6-6 and put them in a position to rise in the Big East standings before the postseason tournament.

In the closing six games of conference play, the Hoyas fell to the No. 20 DePaul Blue Demons (27-8, 16-2 Big East) and the St. John’s Red Storm (23-10, 11-7 Big East) — the only two Big East teams they were unable to beat this season — as well as to the Wildcats in a second matchup that ended in a 63-60 result. However, Georgetown managed to avenge losses it had suffered earlier in the season with wins over Seton Hall (23-9, 12-6 Big East), Butler (10-21, 4-14 Big East) and Xavier (17-13, 8-10 Big East).

The back-to-back victories over Butler and Xavier took place over the final weekend of the regular season, the weekend of Feb. 26, and proved to be crucial as they brought the Hoyas’ conference record to 9-9. With that record, Georgetown — projected at the start of the season to finish seventh in the Big East — would enter the conference playoffs as the fifth seed.

At the end of the regular season, Georgetown had won 16 games and, in doing so, had pulled off one of the greatest season-to-season turnarounds in women’s basketball. Its 12-game improvement on last season’s win total was tied for the third best in the country. Of the nine teams with win improvements of 11 or more games, the Hoyas were the only team with a strength-of-schedule ranking in the top 100.

With an impressive regular season under their belt, the fifth-seeded Hoyas traveled to Chicago, Ill., for the Big East tournament in the first week of March. Having secured a first-round bye for the first time since 2012, Georgetown was set to face fourth-seeded St. John’s in the tournament’s second round. The Hoyas ultimately fell short in that matchup, losing to the Red Storm for the third time in a 65-52 result.

Despite their early exit from the Big East tournament, the Hoyas’ strong regular season performance was good enough to earn them an at-large bid for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Prior to its WNIT berth, Georgetown had not made a postseason appearance since it reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and had not qualified for the WNIT since 2009.

KARLA LEYJA/THE HOYA Senior guard/forward Logan Battle averaged 6.9 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game in her final season.

KARLA LEYJA/THE HOYA
Senior guard/forward Logan Battle averaged 6.9 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game in her final season.

The Hoyas were slated to face Rutgers (19-15, 8-10 Big 10) in the first round of the WNIT in what proved to be a tightly contested matchup. The game was tied on 12 separate occasions, and neither team was ever able to establish a significant lead.

Ultimately, the game came down to the wire. Freshman guard Dionna White hit a layup in the lane to tie the score at 55 with only 28 seconds left on the clock. The Hoyas played solid defense throughout the Scarlet Knight’s final offensive possession. The contest seemed to be headed for overtime when senior guard/forward Logan Battle blocked a shot in the lane in the closing seconds.

However, the Hoyas were unable to get possession of the loose ball, which ended up in the hands of Rutgers senior guard/forward Kahleah Copper. Copper hit a buzzer-beating layup to seal the 57-55 victory for Rutgers and bring Georgetown’s season to an end in a devastating fashion.

For Georgetown’s five seniors, the loss to Rutgers marked the final game of their collegiate career. The graduation of forward Ki-Ke Rafiu, guards Jasmine Jackson and Katie McCormick, guard/forward Logan Battle and forward Dominique Vitalis will be a significant adjustment for a team that did not graduate a single senior last season.

Rafiu moved into a coaching role after she made the decision to retire from playing in the midst of her junior season due to nagging injuries. Her absence next season will leave a leadership void on the Hoyas’ bench.

Jackson, who played for Georgetown for her freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to George Mason, returned to the Hilltop as a graduate student for one final season of collegiate play. Jackson brought valuable experience to a young Hoyas’ backcourt that was largely led by sophomore guard DiDi Burton and White.

Although she was plagued by injuries for much of her time at Georgetown, McCormick made a name for herself through her relentless work ethic and her ability to shoot three-pointers. The Hoyas will certainly miss having McCormick to turn to when they are in need of a crucial three down the stretch.

Battle was a force for Georgetown this season. As the ultimate hybrid player, she had the ability to play nearly every position on the floor and consistently got the job done on both the offensive and defensive end. Adair will be hard-pressed to find another player with versatility comparable to Battle’s next season.

Forward Dominique Vitalis started all 30 of Georgetown’s games this season. She led the team in field goal percentage with 50.3, being the only player to shoot over 50 percent on the season. Vitalis also managed to pull down the most offensive rebounds for the Hoyas with 69. Her work on the glass was a major reason why Georgetown finished first in the Big East in offensive rebounds and offensive rebounding percentage. The absence of her reliable presence around the basket will be challenging to replace going forward.

Despite the void that will be left by the team’s five seniors, there is no doubt that the Georgetown women’s basketball program has a bright future ahead. The Hoyas will return four of their five starters next season, including White and sophomore guard Dorothy Adomako – both of whom were named to the All Big East Second Team this season. White was also a unanimous pick for the All Big East Freshman Team.

White and Adomako finished the season tied in terms of scoring, with each of the guards averaging 14.5 points per game. White led the team in minutes played, free-throw percentage, assists and steals — she had an astounding 77 takeaways on the season and topped the Big East standings with 2.6 steals per game. Adomako pulled down the most total rebounds this year and ranked second on the team in blocked shots and free-throw percentage.

Burton and junior forward Faith Woodard will also be back in the lineup for the Hoyas next season. Together with White and Adomako, these four players will bring invaluable experience and chemistry to the floor for Georgetown.

But perhaps most valuable to the Hoyas’ prospects for next season is the return of Adair. In only two seasons, she managed to take a 4-27 team and turn it into a postseason program that was and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big East conference. With that kind of record of improvement, there is no telling what Adair can accomplish in her third year in the head coaching position.

Next season tips off in November, and I am already counting down the days.

Molly O’Connell is a junior in the College.

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