Saunders, Patriots outlast UAB for 58-55 win Sunday

Rahneeka Saunders leads the Patriots with 16 points in the Patriots win. (Photo courtesy of George Mason Athletics.)
Rahneeka Saunders leads the Patriots with 16 points in the Patriots win. (Photo courtesy of George Mason Athletics.)

The George Mason University women’s basketball team defeated the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers by a narrow 58-55 margin at the Patriot Center in Fairfax on Sunday.

The Patriots’ attack was once again led by senior guard Rahneeka Saunders who led the team in scoring with 16 points. Saunders, who came in yesterday’s match off a 33-point, career-high game against Drake University last Saturday, also registered three assists.

Two additional Patriots scored double digits: senior guard Amber Easter scored 13 points and contributed three assists; redshirt junior Janaa Pickard finished the game with 11 points and team-high 11 rebounds.

Another Patriot whose performance was crucial for the win was junior Kyana Jacobs. Due to early foul trouble for Saunders, Jacobs registered 20 playing minutes and finished the game with nine points and three rebounds.

“As a point guard, she’s got to run the team and I thought she did a heck of a job with that in the first half,” said Coach Jeri Porter on Jacobs’ performance. “I think she kept us composed [and] did a pretty good job at keeping the ball and getting us into offense. She also gives us the ability to slide Rahneeka off the ball. She’s been a great addition and added to the depth that we have in our roster.”

The Blazers did not distribute their scoring as well as the Patriots and all of their points were scored by just four players who all had double digits: junior guard Ashley Grimes (18 points, all in second half); freshman guard Chelsee Black (14 points); senior guard Amber Jones (13 points, five assists); and junior forward Karisma Chapman (10 points, nine rebounds, four steals).

Coach Porter pointed out UAB’s aggression as a major threat to her team and revealed the strategic approach she took to eliminate that threat.

“They were all ultra-aggressive [and] their penetration was really causing problems for us,” said Porter. “We felt like we had to differ our defense a little bit; with zone we had a little more success at keeping them out of the lane, so we set up the game with this mindset.”

On Grimes’ stellar second-half performance she said:

“She’s a good player. She does a really good job putting the ball in [when] attacking the rim and that is what was giving us a hard time.”

Mason started the game with a 7-0 run, setting the tempo for the first half. Although the offensive efforts of Jones and Black brought the Blazers within one at 12-11 midway through the half, the Patriots’ lead grew to ten at 27-17 with 3:30 left before the break. However, the duo Jones-Black – which scored 20 of UAB’s 22 first-half points – managed to cut Mason’s lead in two and thus the halftime score was 27-22 in Mason’s favor.

The second half started in a very different manner as behind Ashley Grimes the Blazers went on a 13-2 run for just under four minutes and formed a 35-29 lead right after they took the lead for the first time.

“We don’t do a good job right now coming out of the locker room at the beginning of halves; we tend to be a little bit flat and one of the things we talked about was that good teams are going to make you pay for that,” Coach Porter said about the drastic change in momentum.

The Patriots came out stronger after the timeout that followed and managed to eventually tie the game at 40 all. Another UAB run followed immediately and the Patriots found themselves in a nine-point deficit situation with with less than six minutes to go. Nevertheless, Mason fought back and regained the lead at 54-53 when Saunders converted two free throws with only 50 seconds left on the clock.

It was mainly free throws that bagged the win for the Patriots as Saunders hit three additional ones while Easter contributed an extra point from the line as well. Saunders shared the thoughts that were going through her mind as she stepped to the line that late in the game.

“At the free-throw line I knew it was very important for me to make those shots; I knew those free throws were big, big help and I knew I needed to knock them down in order for our team to win.”

Despite the win, the Patriots were narrowly outshot by the Blazers by a 36.5-percent to a 35.8-percent margin and forced six more turnovers. However, they won the battle of the boards 42-36.

With the win, the Patriots improved their record to 5-2 and handed UAB only their second win of the season (7-2). Mason continues their homestand against Akron this Wednesday while the Blazers will stay off the field until Dec. 18, when they welcome Morehead State in Birmingham, Ala.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)
Student Media Group: