Freshman plays under pressure

In two games so far this season, freshman Anna Montanana has come up with buzzer-beating feats that salvaged come-from-behind wins in the final seconds of play. Sunday against Richmond, Montanana grabbed a key steal in the final 25 seconds that gave the possession back to GW, still down by five. And it was her foul shot with four seconds left that gave GW the lead and the win.

Her success under pressure was not an accident. Two weeks ago against Temple, Montanana bailed the Colonials out of a loss, extending a four-game win streak and affirming the team’s claim as the only undefeated Atlantic 10 team. Down 53-52, GW inbounded the ball with nine seconds left. Ugo Oha set up for what would be the game-winning three but missed. Montanana was in perfect position under the left side of the basket for the rebound and the put-back. With no time left, she put GW up for good 54-53.

“I like to play in the last minute when the score is tied,” Montanana said after Sunday’s win against Richmond.

You could say Montanana thrives under pressure – an important characteristic, especially now with the added pressure the rookie will see in the absence of starting senior forward Elena Vishniakova. When Vishniakova went down with an Anterior Cruciant Ligament tear seven minutes into the second half of last Sunday’s game against St. Joseph’s, Montanana subbed in as a replacement. Now with Vishniakova out for the remainder of the season, the pressure is on Montanana to sub in as a team leader.

In a sport in which most freshmen find themselves comfortable on the bench, Montanana has found her place on the court. This 6-foot-1 freshman from Valencia, Spain, was a former member of the Spanish National team and is no stranger to competitive basketball.

Prior to the season, head coach Joe McKeown called her his best player at every position, noting the combination of her size and strength inside with her soft shooting touch and sharp passing skills is a lethal combination.

Since then, she has seen 17 minutes a game off the bench – significant playing time for a freshman. In those minutes Montanana has made her mark. She posted career highs in points (10), blocks (2), assists (5) and steals (3) and grabbed six rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench against La Salle last month, earning herself an A-10 Rookie of the Week award. A second-consecutive award followed after Montanana’s performance in GW’s win over Fordham, when she reset her career-high points netting 14.

In the two games following Vishniakova’s injury against Duquesne and Richmond, Montanana has averaged 20 minutes a game, averaging five points and five rebounds a game. McKeown said after the Richmond game that, while she is playing well now, she has not even tapped her potential and could become one of GW’s premiere players in the coming years.

But the on-court pressures are not the only matters Montanana has to deal with at GW.

Any athlete entering college has to deal with new surroundings, but very few have to deal with a new language and an entirely new style of play. Off the court, Montanana said communication was difficult during her first few months at GW, but she has grown accustomed to it. On the court, she had trouble with quick decision-making and play-calling at first, but is quickly coming along.

“In Spain, you play with older people, not only 18-23 year olds. Here, it is much quicker than it is there, and I still have to get used to it,” Montanana said.

Said McKeown: “For any player coming to the United States to play college basketball, it takes a semester to really understand our culture, the way we play basketball. You have to get used to your surroundings, your teammates. I think she’s handling it really well.”

McKeown said her positive attitude and determination have made it possible for her to make a successful leap into collegiate sports in the United States. Although she said she was homesick at first, practice and games made GW more like home. Known for her sense of humor and fun-loving personality, she quickly found her place among her teammates. McKeown smiled as he recalled the recent road trips taken with the team.

“Once we started traveling, once people got to know her, (the team) realized that she has a tremendous personality and a great sense of humor. She had a hard time expressing herself at first, and now she just jokes with them all the time. She’s blending in with them really well”.

-Lauren Silva contributed to this report

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