Last year, the Atlantic 10 Tournament was not even close to a do-or-die situation for the GW women’s basketball team.
The Colonial women boasted an impressive 23-4 record and were assured of an NCAA Tournament berth no matter how they fared in the conference tourney. They were just playing for a good seed in the national tournament.
This year’s Colonial women, though, are anything but a lock for the NCAAs. At 18-8 overall and 12-4 in the conference, the Colonial women might need the automatic bid that comes with the A-10 Championship in order to make it to the big dance.
If GW doesn’t win the A-10 Tournament, which began Tuesday, it could find itself atop an unsteady bubble with a number of other teams hoping for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
GW head coach Joe McKeown said he likes his team’s odds no matter how it fares in the conference tournament, though.
“We have a great shot (of making the NCAAs) regardless of how we do in the next few games,” McKeown said. “Our tradition in the tournament will certainly help us – we have always played very well in the NCAAs. If you’re on the bubble, they look at that.”
GW’s trip to the “Elite Eight” last year likely will be in the back of this year’s committee’s mind when it determines the 64 teams that will fill out the NCAA Tournament field. More than just GW’s performance in past years, McKeown said he feels his team has put together the kind of season that warrants an at-large bid.
The Colonial women have played well on the road this season, winning games at Georgetown University, UCLA and Princeton University. GW also has performed well down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 12 games.
“We should end up with 19 or 20 wins, and we don’t really have any bad losses,” McKeown said of his team, which lost to quality ranked teams such as North Carolina State University and Western Kentucky University. “Obviously we don’t want to leave it up to the selection committee, though.”
GW begins the A-10 Tournament Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center when it faces off with La Salle (15-12, 9-8 A-10), a team GW has beaten twice this season. The Colonial women earned a lopsided 76-47 victory over the Explorers at home and beat La Salle by 14 points on the road, but McKeown said he feels the two games were much closer than results might have indicated.
“We played very well in second half of both games,” McKeown said. “They were both pretty good games for 30 minutes. La Salle is very young, but they can match up with us inside and have talented guards.”
If the Colonial women win Thursday night, they will move into the semifinals against St. Joseph’s or Virginia Tech. GW handled St. Joe’s (18-10, 10-6 A-10) 57-47 at the Smith Center earlier this season, while the Lady Hokies (18-9, 12-5 A-10) beat GW in two games in January.
Just as uncertain is the site of the A-10 semifinals, which will not be determined until after Thursday’s quarterfinal games. Massachusetts, the first seed out of the East Division, will host the semifinal and final games if it wins Thursday by virtue of its 68-55 victory over GW Feb. 19. GW, the A-10 regular season champion and the first seed out of the conference’s West Division, will host the tourney only if UMass loses to Duquesne Thursday.
“The idea that we aren’t going to host the tournament is a little bizarre,” said McKeown, who said he feels his team, by virtue of winning the regular season title, should host. “We’ll just have to go play up there (at UMass) if we have to, and there’s no sense in belaboring the point. Obviously we’ll have no problem getting up for either team in the semifinals.”
While Virginia Tech was one of the few teams to sweep a season series with GW in the 1990s, St. Joe’s beat the Colonial women for the A-10 title last season.
The key to GW’s success in the tournament will not only depend on the team’s two leading scorers, junior forward Noelia Gomez (17.8 points per game) and sophomore Elisa Aguilar (16.4 ppg), McKeown said. GW’s supporting cast will have to step up as well.
“We have to get a lot of production from other players, like (Mandisa) Turner, (Chasity) Myers and (Marlo) Egleston,” McKeown said. “When they play well and score some points, that’s when we start putting people away.”