(SOUTH BEND, IND.; FRI. 3/17/2000) – On Saint Patrick’s Day, the GW women’s basketball team returned to NCAA Tournament play and earned a second-round matchup with the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame after a tough 79-72 win over the University of California at Los Angeles Friday night.
The Colonials (26-5), seeded seventh in the Mideast Region, built as much as a 19-point lead in the second half, but saw the 10th-seeded Bruins play with more poise over much of the second half to slowly chip away and pull within two with four and a half minutes left. But in the end, it was senior guard Elisa Aguilar’s hot three-point shooting that sent the Bruins home and the Colonials back to the hotel to celebrate yet another successful NCAA first round, where GW is now 8-0 all-time.
I was a little disappointed (Aguilar) didn’t make a lot of the All-American teams out there. said Coach Joe McKeown, who won his 250th game as the Colonials’ coach Friday. I think she showed the kind of player she is tonight.
In front of a small crowd in the cozy Joyce Center on the Notre Dame campus, GW roared out of the gate and dominated in surprising fashion. UCLA (18-11) was a team that was ranked high in the preseason, but suffered from injuries all year. With its lineup now complete and packed with impact seniors, the Colonials expected to have their hands full. But GW went up 4-0 and would, in fact, never trail the entire night. Aguilar hit two of her first three three-point attempts to set the tone as GW swiftly pulled away from the cold-shooting Bruins.
UCLA, which advanced to the Elite Eight last season, saw its deficit swell as GW led 26-8 and then 35-16 with just over four minutes left in the first half.
UCLA managed to find some offense before the half and trailed by only 13, 39-26, at the break.
GW took full advantage of 17 UCLA turnovers in the first half and allowed the Bruins’ leading scorer, senior forward Maylana Martin, only four points. She would only finish with eight.
The Colonials opened the second with more domination and led 52-33 with 15 minutes left in the game. Then the Colonials went cold from the field.
The Bruins dropped a 10-0 run on GW over the next three minutes to make a laugher suddenly tense. Then Aguilar buried a three for the 55-43 lead, giving GW a little room to breathe. From there, the Bruins slowly kept picking at GW, as the Colonials could not shake the Californians.
With GW up nine, 62-53, UCLA went on a 7-0 run to pull within 62-60 with six minutes left. Senior guard Marlo Egleston, who had a sizable cheering section from her native Elkand, Penn., then hit two free throws to keep the Bruins from thinking of an imminent tie. UCLA again got within two, and GW again answered, this time with an baseline jumper from freshman forward Erica Lawrence (10 points).
UCLA put back a miss to get within 66-64 with four minutes left when senior forward Starr Jefferson scored her only points of the night on two free throws. The first bounced high in the air before dropping to give GW some room.
With UCLA still appearing to have the Colonials on the ropes, GW finally put together a string of plays that sealed the victory.
With three minutes left, UCLA went on a fast break and looked ready to pull within two, but the Bruins’ LaCresha Flannigan blew the layup. Seconds later, Aguilar twisted the dagger when she buried her fifth three of the night. GW led 71-64 and never saw its lead dip below five the rest of the night as 7-of-8 made free throws by GW down the stretch ended any potential drama.
Coach McKeown talked about that, in the NCAAs, one doesn’t question a win too much – but he expressed some dissatisfaction with his team’s play, particularly in letting the Bruins back into the game, and also with GW’s 23 turnovers. Defensive rebounding was also a sore spot for both squads. GW had 14 offensive rebounds and UCLA had 16.
They really battled hard in the second half and came back and made it a great basketball game, Coach McKeown said. I’m a little concerned they put us in that position.
Aguilar finished with 23 points and 5-of-9 shooting from long range. The Colonials as a whole shot at a 46.6 percent clip and 40.9 percent on threes.
Junior forward Petra Dubovcova had 18 points, while junior guard Kristeena Alexander added 13 on 4-for-6 shooting. She talked about the Colonials’ undefeated streak in the NCAA first round.
I won’t lie, I knew about that, she said. I’m excited that we won, but this isn’t enough.
GW has now beaten UCLA three times in three meetings, all in the last four seasons. Jefferson commented on the disappointment for UCLA’s seniors, whose once highly-anticipated season ended in disappointment Friday night.
We’re happy we made it past the first round, she said. I can’t imagine the letdown (for them) right now.
Now the Colonials must play on a hostile court versus a team they’ve never beaten – although the history between GW and Notre Dame amounts to one game: The Elite Eight matchup in 1997 that the Irish took 62-52.
The Colonials will face Notre Dame (26-4), who is undefeated at home this year, on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. for a berth in the Sweet 16. The second-seeded Irish advanced by virtue of a 87-61 victory over San Diego Friday night.