The 2019-20 season has been one of hardship for the Georgetown women’s basketball team. After losing their top three scorers from last year, the program knew the year ahead would be a rebuilding one, and the results have shown as much. The Hoyas are 2-11 in the Big East in Head Coach James Howard’s third season, but he isn’t looking as much at statistics and results as he is at the effort his players are displaying on a day-to-day, game-to-game basis.
“That’s the thing we’re always looking for: effort,” Howard said after a loss to Seton Hall on Jan. 31. “If we take the loss, we take the loss but what was our effort? Did we compete?”
Through the first six games of the season, the Hoyas sat at 2-4 with victories over Pittsburgh and Loyola Marymount. Considering the significant losses of Mikayla Venson, Dionna White, and Dorothy Adomako, this might have been an expected start for a young team still figuring things out.
From there, however, the results have been even less encouraging. The Blue & Gray dropped four of their final five non-conference games to enter Big East play with a 3-8 record. After taking a loss in the opener against Creighton, Georgetown notched a morale-boosting victory at McDonough Arena over a Providence squad that was 9-4 at the time. On the back of 14-point performances from graduate student guard Taylor Barnes and sophomore guard Tayanna Jones, it seemed the Hoyas might be peaking at just the right time. Unfortunately, Georgetown lost 10 games in a row before defeating Xavier on Feb. 9, and hold a 5-19 record with five games to go in the regular season and the Big East Tournament looming.
The most significant indicator of the Hoyas’ troubles has been their poor shooting. Thus far, they have shot 34.9 percent from the field, the worst in the Big East. It’s proven difficult to find any good looks without the playmaking abilities of White in the lineup, and it’s nearly impossible to win Big East contests when nothing is falling. The Hoyas are shooting a paltry 29.7 percent from 3-point range, compounded by a pedestrian 72.2 percent clip on free throws. The rest of the traditional statistics suggest the Hoyas are otherwise competitive—Georgetown has averaged 38.4 rebounds per game with just a -0.3 average rebound margin, and 14.2 turnovers per game, barely more than their opponents’ average of 13.8.
Despite the record being what it is, the women’s basketball team knew this season would have its bumps and bruises. In October, Howard said this year was always going to be a rebuilding campaign. “When you lose so much power and experience—that’s the key: experience—you don’t have those expectations.”
Still, there may be hope for Howard’s program. There are certainly positives to be taken from this year. Perhaps the main bright spot has been sophomore guard Nikola Kovacikova’s emergence as a primary ball handler. Though she has only started nine of the Hoyas’ 24 games, the Slovakian is averaging 25.3 minutes per game, fourth most on the team, up from 15.6 minutes per game a season ago. In her sophomore season, the statistics are strong across the board. Kovacikova’s 51 assists and 29 3-pointers made rank second on the squad, while her 7.6 points per game rank third. Her performance thus far bodes well for the program’s future, as she projects to be the starting point guard next season with the impending departures of Brianna Jones, Taylor Barnes, and Marvellous Osagie-Erese.
“If we can get Nikola to continue to be aggressive in her scoring and her rebounding, then that will help,” Howard said. “It will help for the future and the progression of our team.”
Fellow sophomore guard Tayanna Jones has also seen a considerable bump in playing time, averaging 16 minutes per game after just 4.9 last year. The Selma, North Carolina native’s 5.4 points per game is good for fifth most on the squad, a promising contribution considering this is her first year getting significant minutes. Jones has shot 55 3-pointers this season, fourth most on the team, and despite hitting just 27.3 percent of her shots from deep, her accuracy figures to improve through Big East play and into next season as she gets more comfortable with increased minutes.
Not to be overlooked by Kovacikova and Tayanna Jones, sophomore guard Cassandra Gordon and freshman forward Graceann Bennett continue to acclimate to their increased roles in Big East Play. Howard believes this will be key to their performance moving forward.
“We want to get their feet wet against good teams and let them know, confidence-wise, that they can play with them,” Howard said.
For the remainder of the season, the Hoyas will continue working to improve and be competitive in each and every game, regardless of the opponent or outcome. With college basketball programs, it is imperative to keep an eye on the future, while also focusing on immediate competition.
“My goal for this team, in my vision, is to continue to work each and every day to get better as a team,” Howard said when asked of the team’s goals for the rest of the year. “If we do that, I think the upperclassmen will go out with some pride of knowing that we gave it our all. Underclassmen will come back knowing, hey, this is what it takes to play against some good teams and we can play with them. Confidence is the key.”