Prange's Big Game Provides Confidence Boost in Final Stretch of Season
Senior forward looks back to her old self with memorable 36-point performance against Rhode Island
By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications
The cheer rang out from the Charles E. Smith Center's upper deck, where the pep band had already started the countdown to its victory tune: "Kelli. Prange. Kelli. Prange."
In the final minute of GW's 65-52 win over Rhode Island on Wednesday, the students' sing-song chant -- reinforced by the buzz of a throng of gleeful school children celebrating Field Trip Day -- offered fitting recognition of a stunning individual performance.
Kelli Prange earned it, piling up a career-high 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting. The senior forward added a career-high 13 rebounds in an overpowering effort against the Rams.
Prange etched her place in the GW record book with the fifth-highest single-game point total in program history and most since Elisa Aguilar hit for 37 in January 1998. It was also the most points scored by a player in the Atlantic 10 this season.
That it came four games into her return from a concussion that threatened to derail her final season in Buff and Blue made it that much more special.
"It's been building up and building up," Prange said afterward. "This game was a spark, and I think my teammates really wanted that for me. It's just a huge confidence builder."
Prange missed a total of seven games after suffering the head injury during the Paradise Jam finale against Syracuse on Nov. 25. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti has been bringing the Maryland native off the bench as she gets comfortable and eases back into the rotation.
On Wednesday, Prange looked like her old self, showcasing an array of offensive moves, plus tough rebounding and solid post defense, in spurring the Colonials past the Rams. She scored 14 points in the opening quarter, passed her previous career-high of 24 before the end of the third and kept on going in a memorable performance.
"We've missed her a lot," said Brianna Cummings, who chipped in 14 points in the victory. "It's great to see her have one of these nights like tonight. She deserves it 100 percent. She definitely does. She's been working hard."
Prange's injury interrupted a promising start to her senior year. The 6-foot-5 forward felt like an offseason filled with extra skills work and conditioning sessions had her playing the best basketball of her career.
"Honestly, I was feeling unstoppable," said Prange, who had hit double figures in each of her six full games before the concussion.
Instead, Prange was faced with a trying recovery. For weeks, she was cut off from any physical activity with no set timeline for a return.
Some days, she felt almost like herself. Others, she couldn't do much more than lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. In the darkest moments, she wondered if her GW career might be over.
Through a patience-testing time, Prange leaned on the rest of the Colonials to keep her spirits up.
"It was just taking it day-by-day," Prange said. "At the end of the day, it was really, really hard, but my teammates and coaching staff were always reaching out to me to see how I was doing. It was nice to know that I had support and a family to back me up."
As A-10 play kicked into gear, Prange was back on the court -- and essentially back at square one. She said the challenge has been to catch up with her conditioning and develop the trust to play fast and physical without fear.
Since returning to the lineup full-time Jan. 13 against Duquesne, Prange has made steady progress on both accounts. She's edging toward her normal workload and getting more comfortable taking contact in the post.
On Wednesday, Prange put on a memorable show to thwart Rhode Island's upset bid.
Prange's monster opening period allowed GW to turn a seven-point deficit into a eight-point lead. Despite coming off the bench, she scored 16 of their first 19 points in all and assisted on the other basket to rescue the Colonials from a slow start.
Throughout, Prange continued to find holes in Rhode Island's zone defense. Rather than settling for 3-pointers, she attacked for layups and short jumpers and hit the offensive boards to earn second-chance points.
"That was the physical presence that we've been missing," Rizzotti said. "It's just nice to see her kind of bounce back in a way that makes her feel good about her contribution because we really need her down the stretch."
For Prange, it's a chance to make up for lost time.
Wednesday's performance -- capped by that well-earned serenade from the band -- sent a message that she's recovered her early season form. She's excited to show more of that version going forward.
"I think it's an eye opener," Prange said. "Even though I was out for that long, I still have the basketball skills that I worked on over the summer, all the countless hours that I put in extra with (assistant Kevin DeMille) or all that I did with Brandi (Walker) with conditioning. It's all still there. My mindset just needs to get there more often."
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