Natalie Butler is Incredible, but George Mason is Pretty Darn Good Too

There are times when people know that a season is going to be great. For the George Mason Women’s Basketball team you could easily point to the season-opener, playing a ranked Michigan in a back-and-forth contest until the final two minutes. Another mark on the check-list for the program is a home win over rival Richmond.

Mason had not won at home over the Spiders since 1999 and won only one of their past 11 contests together. On Wednesday the Patriots knocked off Richmond 77-56. It was an off-day for the graduate student, but Natalie Butler still found a way to lead the team with her NCAA leading 18th double-double. The story though was the team, an all-around performance and easy win for the Patriots on a snowy Wednesday morning.

The Patriots (15-4, 4-1 A10) are off to their best start in the Division I era. Only through six games in conference play the Patriots already have a 15-win season, their second in the past 14 seasons.

Easily this can be attributed to the level of play inserted into the program. Not only the competitiveness of Butler, but spirit and versatility of freshman Nicole Cardano-Hillary as well. Both just happened to struggle in their most recent contest, showing how good the rest of the team is.

The 6-5 center was dominant like always against Richmond. She finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds but it was an off-shooting night for Butler. Throughout the first half, she struggled with her stroke, taking tough contested baskets. Shooting 6-for-18 and even making a three-pointer, she led all scorers.

“My teammates did a great job of keeping me in the game and still looking to get it inside. We did the best we possibly could and I think that it was great ball distribution from the team,” Butler said.

Butler has clearly been the star for the Patriots in an incredible season. She is a near-lock for First-Team All-Atlantic 10 and a contender for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

Cardano-Hillary had 13 points as well, battling through foul trouble in the first two quarters. All season she has been trying to match Butler’s incredible numbers scoring and intensity-wise. So far its earned her four Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week Awards. She is a special player, enough for head coach Nyla Milleson to break her two foul rule.

“She just makes us go and its part of the maturation process because I really do have a two foul-sit-rule and I very very seldom ever break it,” Milleson said. “She continues to grow and she is going to have to play through foul trouble so this is a good test for her.”

With her out, the freshman from Finland, Marika Korpinen came in and helped navigate Mason to a 18-2 run in the second quarter. She followed up the one of the best games of her career in Rhode Island (11 points, 4-8 shooting) with another seven points and three assists. Although closely contested by Cardano-Hillary, she may be the quickest player on the court for Mason. Always she is looking to have the ball in her hands.

In total 12 players entered the contest, nine of them scored, eight of them reached six points, and three had double-figures.

“This is exactly what we need right now,” Butler said. “Coach talks about leveling up from other players, meaning that other players need to step up and I think that is what we are seeing right now.”

Defensively they held Richmond to 29.7 percent shooting, their best defensive effort on the season. They also forced the Spiders to turn the ball over 19 times and commit 24 fouls.

At the end of the first quarter and throughout the second, Richmond (7-12, 2-4 A10) only scored two points, both coming from the charity stripe. Mason outscored them 20-2. If you take away the second quarter of play, the score was 59-54.

The Spiders’ leading scorer on the season, Micaela Parson was held to only 11 points. Parson had two points in the first 20 min and was matched up against Taylor Dodson for a majority of the day. Her sister, Alex Parson, led the Spiders with 13 points and three three-pointers.

Six players also recorded an assist, led by second-year starter Sarah Kaminski with four. The other two starters were part of the first five on the court last year as well, Jacy Bolton and Dodson.

Off the bench, Camden Musgrave (nine points) has turned into a dagger-type player. All three of her baskets were contested, including a beautiful three pointer in the monster second quarter.

Everywhere on the roster there is something to be excited about, each person bringing something different to the team. Without Butler and Cardano-Hillary on their top game, the rest of the roster put them in a position to win. That is just enough that could push the team to Sunday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. At home they have not lost this year and added to a team-record 12 home game winning streak.

The Patriots continue to hold pace with the top teams in the Atlantic 10. They are one of five teams that have one conference loss or fewer. Still on the docket will be some of their toughest competition on the year. Mason has not squared off against any of the top teams yet this season.

“We just have to stay locked in and do what we do best,” Milleson said. “If we continue to guard like we are doing, we just need to stay in the hunt every game.”

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