Cummings Heads Home as Women's Hoops Visits Mercer

Dec. 5, 2017

By Eric Detweiler, GW Athletics Communications

At every chance, Jennifer Rizzotti has encouraged Brianna Cummings to be more aggressive. The GW women's basketball coach wants the guard to trust in the offensive skills she spent so much time tirelessly developing ahead of her senior season.

Before Saturday's game against South Florida, Rizzotti continued that crusade with a question for the group: Is everybody OK with Bri taking more shots?

Of course, the Colonials offered their unanimous approval.

"Lexi (Levy) was like, `If you have to take 75 shots, do it!'" Cummings remembered with a laugh.

Cummings didn't need that many tries to rack up a career-high 23 points against the 16th-ranked Bulls. The guard from Georgia hit 9-of-17 shots from the field and 5-of-6 free throws to help the Colonials keep pace in an 83-78 loss, even with top scorer Kelli Prange sidelined by injury.

Through eight games, Cummings is averaging 13.0 points, nearly double her career rate entering the season. All the while, she's continued to fill the rest of the stat sheet and play top-notch defense, same as ever.

Cummings will get another chance to showcase her progress Wednesday when the Colonials visit Mercer. She's expecting about 20 friends and family members to make the two-hour drive from her hometown of Lawrenceville, Ga.

Rizzotti knows the work -- physically and mentally -- that's gone into her emergence as a two-way force.

"Bri's always had a lot of potential," Rizzotti said. "It's great to see her now utilizing what she's been given and having the confidence and the determination to be great. She's always been a really good player in this program, but she wants to be great right now."

Cummings showed that attitude last summer when she was one of two Colonials -- along with fellow captain Camila Tapias -- who opted to stay on campus for both sessions of summer school.

She used the extra time in Charles E. Smith Center to focus on her shooting and ball handling, well aware that she'd be need to step up her offensive production to boost a squad that graduated its top three scorers.

Over the past three seasons, Cummings followed a natural progression from bench sparkplug to trusted starter, but she'd always been content to take a back seat to stars like Jonquel Jones and Caira Washington.

Rizzotti challenged Cummings to make that next step in her final go-round. The second-year coach had seen enough flashes to know she could do it.

"She's kind of maturing into this role of being a go-to guy," Rizzotti said. "I think people forget that she hasn't had to do that in three years. When you're suddenly asked to do it, it's nice, but it doesn't mean it just comes naturally, especially for somebody as humble and unselfish as she is."

For Cummings, the hard part was developing the mindset to keep attacking.

Throughout her career, Cummings had often been at her best after halftime once she'd had time to feel out the game. Rizzotti wanted her to learn to hunt shots early to get in the flow right away.

With each passing game, Cummings is feeling more comfortable in the spotlight. It's her turn to be a leader, whether that's taking charge on the floor or speaking up in a huddle.

"It's something I've definitely had to work on," Cummings said. "It doesn't come natural at all, but I think watching some of my older teammates do it these past three years has given me the confidence that this is my time to step up."

Cummings has rewritten her list of career highs early this season. The guard posted an 11-point quarter in the Nov. 16 win over Towson and produced 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the Paradise Jam finale against Syracuse.

On Saturday, Cummings followed the pregame confidence boost from her teammates with her best performance yet.

Cummings stayed on the attack from start to finish against South Florida, playing all 40 minutes for the first time in her career. With Prange out, she spent more time than usual on the block and showed the ability to maneuver around bigger players to score inside.

"USF was a great example of me being able to take some good shots early," said Cummings, who scored 16 of her 23 points after halftime. "Maybe they didn't go in, but at least getting those shots up gave me the confidence later on to knock them down."

On Wednesday, Cummings will try to keep it going with her parents Freddie and Angela and an assortment of former teammates and coaches in the crowd at Mercer's Hawkins Arena.

She's been looking forward to the trip since Rizzotti arranged the matchup with the Bears months ago. Before this, the closest the Colonials have been to Georgia was their NCAA Tournament appearance at South Carolina in 2016.

It's a bonus that Cummings heads into her homecoming playing the best basketball of her career.

"I'm excited to get down there," Cummings said. "My parents try to make it up here, but of course, it's a 10-hour drive, so they're not able to be at as many games as they would love to be at. It's a great opportunity for me that not everybody gets to experience."