PHILADELPHIA – The fate of the GW women’s basketball team now rests in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee. Xavier pulled a 67-64 upset in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament Saturday, abruptly ending GW’s bid to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For the second-consecutive year the Musketeers have ended GW’s tournament title hopes.
The loss at the Liacouras Center comes as crushing blow to a team that won 15 straight conference games, including a 22-point victory against the Musketeers in mid-January. GW head coach Joe McKeown, who earned his fourth A-10 Coach of the Year award last week, said the game slipped away when his team had a six-point advantage just after halftime.
“I think we were up 38-32 and we have three or four possessions that we didn’t score, and it seemed like we might have been be able to break the thing open a little bit,” McKeown said afterwards. “I thought that was a crucial point, to start the second half, if we could have got a little run going.”
The difference in the game was three-point shooting, as it was in last year’s championship game when Reetta Piipari scored 20 points with six three-pointers to knock off GW 81-56. This time it was three-point specialist Amy Waugh, whose seven three-pointers tied the tournament record and undercut the Colonials own 50 percent shooting.
The Colonials hit two of six three-pointers – far below last year’s 5-of-12 performance – while Xavier hit seven of 20. Waugh connected on all seven three-pointers, including five in the second half. The guard finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Piipari had a game-high 10 assists, and Aida Sarajlija added 14 points for Xavier.
“I just have to give credit to my teammates for getting me open, and they could get me the ball when I was open,” Waugh said at a post-game press conference.
“We left her open,” McKeown said of Waugh’s multiple open looks. “We just broke down mentally three or four times, and she was wide open. And some other times she made some deep threes that you’ve got to give her credit (for).”
GW’s Ugo Oha, who last week was named A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, had a team-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. Oha scored 14 in the first half, and all of her second-half points came from the free-throw line. Cathy Joens and Erica Lawrence added 12 points apiece. A-10 Sixth Player of the Year Lindsey Davidson had a season-high nine assists.
With the Colonials up 38-32 just over four minutes into the half, Xavier went on a 16-5 run to take a 48-43 lead. The run was capped by a Colleen Yukes lay-up after a Shavon Bell steal. Waugh hit two of her seven three-pointers over the seven-minute span, vaulting Xavier into a lead the Musketeers held the rest of the game.
The Colonials whittled the lead to two on a Lawrence mid-range jumper with seven and a half minutes remaining. The teams traded possessions without scoring over the next couple of minutes before Waugh hit her fifth three-pointer of the game. Marsheik Witherspoon hit two free throws to cut the lead to three. Waugh answered again with another three to increase Xavier’s lead to six, 56-50.
With just under four minutes remaining, Waugh hit her seventh three of the game to put Xavier up eight, 59-51. GW fought back and cut the lead to four with just over a minute to go when Lawrence hit the team’s first three-pointer of the afternoon. But GW did not get any closer until Greeba Outen Barlow made a lay-up as time expired, cutting the lead to three.
“They played really well down the stretch, and we could never get the lead back,” McKeown said. “We’d get two of four, and then they’d make a shot or make a play. And that was it.”
The Colonials must now wait until the NCAA Selection Committee announces the 64 tournament teams on ESPN Sunday at 5 p.m.
McKeown said he hates that the decision is out of his hands, and began immediately campaigning for why his team deserves a bid.
“When you have a 16-game season, and you’re the champion of that, to me that should weigh more than winning a three-day tournament,” he said. “We’re 20-8 and played a national schedule, (the University of) Tennessee, North Carolina State (University). I think we did all the things that they tell you you should do. We’ve been to nine NCAA Tournaments, so we have the tradition, and we have also played very well in the NCAA Tournament for the most part.”
During those nine NCAA appearances, the women were bumped out of the first round only once, in last year’s loss to Stanford University.
Joens said the team has to refocus and prepare for a possible tournament games.
“We have to go back home, get refocused and work on things we need to so if we do go to the tournament we’ll be ready,” Joens said.