STORRS, CT – A tenth seed defeating a seventh seed in the men’s or women’s 1998 NCAA Tournaments probably seemed like a small blip on the screen when compared to some of the other upsets that took place in the first and second rounds of both tournaments.
But that didn’t make the win any less important for the GW women’s basketball team, which defeated the seventh-seeded University of Georgia on Friday, Mar. 13 in the first round of East Region play in Storrs, Conn. The Colonial women exited the tournament two days later when they fell to the second seeded University of Connecticut in the second round.
“We came out to win (against Georgia), but I think many people didn’t think we would win,” junior forward Noelia Gomez said. “It was a good team effort.”
While the men’s tournament saw upsets occurring left and right in the first weekend of play, the women’s tournament witnessed one of the biggest upsets that has occurred in the history of either postseason tournament. Harvard University, the 16th seed in the West Region, knocked off Stanford University 71-67 in the first roundthe first time a one seed has ever been defeated by a 16 seed in a men’s or women’s NCAA Tournament.
With their victory Friday night, the Colonial women (20-10) earned their eighth consecutive 20-win season under Coach Joe McKeown, who is now 205-76 in nine seasons at GW. The Colonial women also improved to 7-0 in first-round games of the NCAA Tournament, and are 10-7 in tournament play overall.
UConn 75, GW 67The Colonial women had several opportunities to simply give up and let the University of Connecticut steamroll them Sunday, Mar. 15 when the two teams met in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.
But they never did give up in losing to the Huskies 75-67, despite a hostile and raucous sell-out crowd of 10,027, a size disadvantage, and a great deal of foul trouble throughout the game.
“If you’re a big basketball fan, and you follow the game, a lot of good teams got beat this weekend,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We just beat a really good team, I thought, who wouldn’t allow us to knock them out. We tried a couple of times, but to their credit, they wouldn’t let us.”
The Huskies (33-2), who made it to the second round by virtue of an easy 93-52 victory over Fairfield University Mar. 13, attempted to deliver a knockout blow to GW early. They jumped out to a 17-4 lead in the first half, as GW had trouble running its offense and hitting its shots when it did get an attempt from the field. The Colonial women hit just one of their first eight shot attempts and made only 31 percent of their shots in the first half.
In addition, GW’s two big guns, Noelia Gomez and Elisa Aguilar, were stymied in the first half and for the entire game. Gomez, who committed her third foul with more than 11 minutes left in the first half, was shut out in the first 20 minutes, while Aguilar had just six points. GW’s two Spanish players finished with a combined 16 pointsless than half of their usual output.
“For us to win in this environment Gomez and Aguilar have to score for us, and it didn’t happen tonight,” GW head coach Joe McKeown said. “It hurt not having their production.”
“Coming in to the game we knew that Aguilar and Gomez were their two best players, and coach gave us a game plan of really focusing on them and limiting them and trying to make the other players step up,” said Connecticut forward Amy Duran, who scored 13 points. “I think we did a very good job of that, and it forced some of the other players to come into a role that maybe they weren’t used to.”
GW trailed by as many as 13 points on several occasions in the first half and were behind 39-28 at halftime. A different team came out of the locker room, though, as the Colonial women opened the second half with a 12-3 run that brought them within two points of the lead at 42-40. UConn missed its first 10 shots of the half and did not make a shot from the field until there was 12:21 remaining in the game.
After the run, though, a rash of fouls were called on GW, including Gomez’ fourth foul with 15:23 left in the game. GW center Khadija Deas fouled out of the game with just under 13 minutes left in the game, and UConn soon began having success pounding the ball inside. UConn center Paige Sauer, a 6-5 sophomore, finished the game with 23 points, including 12-of-14 shooting from the free throw line. The Huskies were able to push their lead back to 10 points at 52-42.
“They are a very aggressive man-to-man team, and I thought we could take advantage of the fact that the game was being called kind of tight,” Auriemma said. “So we decided to get into our spread offense to make sure we had a lot of people going to the basket and we ended up going to the line a lot.”
In all, 18 fouls were called on GW in the second half as compared to just five on UConn. Gomez eventually fouled out of the game, along with sophomore guard Marlo Egleston and Chasity Myers. The Huskies shot 41 free throws in the game and made 30 of them.
Despite losing much of the core of its team to disqualification by fouls, GW stuck with the Huskies in the second half behind the play of Myers, who was GW’s only player in double figures with 20 points.
“We saw our opportunities and we saw that yes, we can play with UConn,” said Myers, who hasn’t participated in a full practice since Dec. 30 because of nagging injuries. “Even when Gomez fouled out, we felt as a unit that we could do this.”
“Chasity had the attitude tonight that she’ll play on one leg, she’ll play on adrenaline, but we’re going to give everything we have,” McKeown said.
Myers hit a 15-foot jumper at the 2:43 mark to close the gap to five points at 69-64, but GW got no closer.
The Colonial women outrebounded UConn 43-33 in the game and made 25 field goals to UConn’s 20, although GW went to the line just 22 times, compared to the Huskies’ 41 trips.
“We thought we had a chance to win this game coming in,” McKeown said. “I was really proud of my team tonight, because my team never quit. We had to overcome a lot of obstacles.”
GW 74, Georgia 72On the night of Jan. 29, 1998, the GW women’s basketball team had just lost to Virginia Tech 67-55 on the road, had fallen to 12-7 on the season and head coach Joe McKeown felt as if his team’s season might have been slipping away from it. At that time, a first-round win over the storied program of the University of Georgia in the 1998 NCAA Tournament would have seemed pretty unlikely to GW’s coach and players.
But the Colonial women accomplished that feat a month and a half after the Lady Hokies swept GW in the season series by defeating the Lady Bulldogs (17-11) 74-72 at the Harvey A. Gampel Pavilion Friday, Mar. 13 in first-round play in the East Region.
“I remember coming back on that bus-it was a long bus ride to Washington-I thought a great season for us might be 16-11 and we should just get ready for next season,” McKeown said. “If you would have asked me that night coming back from Virginia Tech, I would have told you I was going to get my golf clubs out early in March, because I didn’t think we’d be playing in this (NCAA) Tournament.”
Sophomore guard Elisa Aguilar lifted GW to the win on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Aguilar scored a game-high 31 points, including five three-pointers, and recorded five rebounds and five steals for the Colonial women. Many of Aguilar’s steals led to easy fast break opportunities for the Colonial women.
“The turnovers that led to uncontested baskets, there’s probably 10 points there that they got that we didn’t get from our defense,” Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. GW scored 10 points on fast-break opportunities in the game compared to just two for the Lady Bulldogs.
“We were right in their faces,” McKeown said. “I thought Elisa’s pressure on Kelly Miller was tremendous, and I thought we took her out pretty well. That was definitely a key match-up for us.” While GW allowed Miller, Georgia’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. to score 16 points, the 5-10 guard never reall
y took over the game, as she made just four of her 14 attempts from the floor.
GW’s defense as a team was outstanding as well. Georgia, which shot over 42 percent from the field during the season, made just 37 percent of its shots against GW.
“Their defense affected us much more than our defense affected them, and that was probably the difference in the game,” Landers said. “They played well together, switching off on screens, changing from their zone to their man and doing it effectively, making it difficult to pass and catch.”
The game was tied at 69-69 with 2:41 remaining after Georgia’s Pam Irwin made a pair of free throws. Corrin Reid made a 15-foot jumper on GW’s next possession to give GW the lead for good. Georgia failed to score on its next two possessions before Aguilar made two free throws to push GW’s lead to 73-69 with 48.1 seconds remaining. Miller made a three-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining, but it was too little too late for the Lady Bulldogs.
GW had trailed throughout the game and for the majority of the second half, falling behind by four points at 58-54 with 7:33 left in the game. During an 11-4 Georgia run that gave it a the four-point lead, the Colonial women were firing and missing from three-point range.
“We were trying to bank in a couple of those threes, and it felt like we were just playing H-O-R-S-E out there for a while,” McKeown said. “We got a little flat, and we took some bad shots, but you have to understand Georgia is pretty good on defense. They get after you pretty good.”
GW came back behind the play of Aguilar and Gomez. Gomez stopped the run by making a steal and an unassisted basket in the open floor. On GW’s next possession, Aguilar split four Georgia defenders to make a layup and earn a free throw, which she made to give GW a 59-58 lead. Including that three-point play, the sophomore guard scored GW’s next 11 points to keep her team within striking distance down the stretch.
Although GW played fairly well in the first halfmaking almost 49 percent of its shotsit found itself trailing by as many as eight points at 37-29. Back-to-back layups by Gomez and Aguilar narrowed the gap to four points, and Aguilar made a three-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half to cap a 9-2 GW run.
“The key for us was the great run at the end of the first half,” McKeown said. “I think gave us some confidence at halftime, because we were really struggling.”