Let `March Madness’ begin for the Colonials

MarloMarch has come, so let the games begin.

The GW women’s basketball team (ranked No. 23 and seeded No. 7) will battle the tenth-seeded University of California at Los Angeles in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, starting Friday at 6 p.m. at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.

The Colonials (25-5) earned their eighth tournament appearance in the last 10 seasons and are a perfect 7-0 in first-round games. A potential second-round matchup Sunday with Mideast No. 2 seed Notre Dame (25-4) looms for GW, but Coach Joe McKeown knows the team cannot look past a Bruins’ squad with Tournament experience.

It’s hard to overlook a team like UCLA, McKeown said. They’ve got great talent. We’re just really focused on them.

The Bruins (18-10) were ranked fourth in the national polls at the start of the season and are making their third consecutive appearance in the NCAAs. Last year’s team advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to Louisiana Tech. National Player of the Year candidate Maylana Martin (17.6 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game) is one of five UCLA players to reach the 2,000-point plateau in her college career. Friday’s matchup against GW will be the UCLA senior’s third game against the Colonials. Martin, a 6-3 forward, scored 27 points in a losing effort in 1997 when the Colonials defeated the host Bruins 78-73 behind Elisa Aguilar’s 22 points.

UCLA also features three other seniors in the starting lineup: point guard Erica Gomez (6.7 ppg, 5.5 assists per game), who was injured early in the season, 6-4 center Janae Hubbard (10.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and forward Marie Philman (7.8 ppg). Freshman Nicole Kaczmarski (11.6 ppg) rounds out the starting five for the Bruins’ seventh-year head coach, Kathy Olivier.

I think it’s important that we limit them to one shot, McKeown said after practice Wednesday. We’ve really got to keep them off the offensive glass.

The Bruins are 7-7 against the NCAA field this season, while GW is 3-4 against tournament teams. The two teams share one common opponent this year – Rutgers. The host Colonials defeated then No. 8 Rutgers 63-58 Dec. 4, while the Scarlet Knights beat visiting UCLA 72-46 Dec. 21.

GW’s Aguilar enters her final NCAA Tournament averaging 14.3 ppg, while red-hot junior Petra Dubovcova comes in averaging 19 points in her last three games. The Colonials will need strong inside play from forwards Erica Lawrence and Starr Jefferson to battle Martin and Hubbard and will also need Atlantic 10 Sixth Player of the Year Kristeena Alexander to be a spark off the bench.

The Colonials shot 43 percent this season from the field and 34 percent (189-for-561) from three-point range. Despite hitting only 2-of-15 from behind the arc in the A-10 Tournament, Aguilar leads the team with 71 treys.

I think we addressed some of what we felt we needed to get better at (since the A-10 Tournament), McKeown said. Just being a little more patient on offense, maybe getting better shots. We worked a little bit against zones because we’ll see some zones. Just really trying to go in there loose and not a lot of pressure and just play.

Friday’s game will be broadcast on WRGW 540 AM (available on the Internet at www.gwradio.com). UCLA’s broadcast of the game will be available on Broadcast.com.

Aguilar and UCLA’s Martin and Gomez were three of 17 players selected to participate in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Challenge, scheduled for April 1 at the Palestra in Philadelphia. The contest is held in conjunction with the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

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