Last year’s pick to win the women’s NCAA Tournament is coming to town. On Nov. 27, the Colonial women hostthe Tennessee Lady Vols, the No. 2 team in the country. GW, ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press, has never hosted a team ranked that high under head coach Joe McKeown. Despite a number of injuries, Tennessee is still one of the most feared teams in the country.
According to the team Web site, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt disagrees with the high ranking.
“The number two ranking seemed high, (even) when we were healthy, when you look at what we lost from last year,” said Summitt, a seasoned veteran with six NCAA titles. “We lost a lot of experienced players. I think that we are over-ranked, but only time will tell.”
The Lady Vols return without three starters, including All-Americans Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall and Kristen Clement. Those three headed a star-studded class that led the Lady Vols to the 1998 National Championship.
Injuries have also hurt Tennessee’s starting lineup. Both Gwen Jackson, a top scorer, and center Ashley Robinson are recovering from knee surgery. Robinson will be out until mid-January nursing a torn ligament in her knee.
While McKeown recognizes that these are significant injuries, he is quick to point out Tennessee is a major threat, even though GW has lost just once in two seasons at the Smith Center.
“When you have the depth that they have, the people they’re bringing in – high school All-Americans, the player of the year in their states, the top five players in the country coming out of high school – they just kind of reload,” he said.
This newest recruiting class has proven it can play. Freshmen Loree Moore looked impressive in her debut, scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, while star freshmen Shyra Ely scored a team high 16 points in the 97-57 drubbing of Chattanooga.
And don’t underestimate the returning upperclassmen. Five-foot-11 sophomore Tasha Butts and 6-foot-5 junior Michelle Snow represent a tall and bruising frontcourt. Snow will battle GW’s Ugo Oha down low as long as she stays out of foul trouble.
“We have to do everything,” GW forward Erica Lawrence said. “Little things, big things. We have to do everything well.”
McKeown said strong defense without many turnovers would be the biggest keys. He said teams like Tennessee feed off stretches of scoring runs that stem from turnovers.
“You gotta play great (defense), go toe to toe (and) force them to make the shot,” McKeown said. “We can’t turn the ball over in the backcourt or a situation where they can run out. Better off throwing the ball out of bounds. Then they can’t break and score. It gives you a chance to set up your (defense).”
Oha, using her 6-foot-4 frame and 7-foot wingspan, will be the go-to player for GW. Oha can get over opponents for easy shots and force them to take bad shots. She blocked 78 shots last season (more than eight A-10 teams combined). McKeown said she must establish an inside presence to force the Lady Vols to rely on low-percentage outside shots.
If things go right for GW, the Colonials will win the turnover battle, score frequently down low and be a model team defense. If things go right for Tennessee, the team will create turnovers, dominate the low post and prove it deserves the No. 2 ranking.