Last season the GW women’s basketball team was undefeated in conference play and riding a 15-game winning streak heading into its final regular season game. But a loss at Massachusetts followed by a first-round loss to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament dashed any NCAA Tournament hopes. After accepting a bid to the WNIT, the women lost to Virginia Tech in the second round, quickly ending what had been a highly promising postseason.
As GW approaches its final games of the 2003 season, the Hatchet sat down with head coach Joe McKeown to discuss the team’s status heading into the same crucial stretch.
Hatchet: You had an 11-game winning streak snapped by Xavier a few weeks ago. After the way last season ended, was it good to get that loss out of way before the tournament?
Joe McKeown: Time will tell. That’s one of those things that I won’t know until our conference season ends and the tournament ends. What I do know, is that if it took someone four overtimes to beat us, then that shows we’ve got a lot of fight.
H: Were you worried about how the team would respond to such a tough loss?
JM: I was worried about the next game because we had just played on the road at Dayton and at Xavier, and physically I thought that road trip took a lot out of us. I think getting through that UMass game with a win, just somehow grinding it out, I thought that showed a lot about this team.
H: Do you feel like you have the momentum back from the 11-game winning streak earlier this year?
JM: Yes, I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence, and I think we took a lot of positives out of the Xavier game. I just think this is a much different team than last year; we’re much tougher mentally than we were last year.
H: Is that mental toughness from experience?
JM: Yes, I think we are getting real good leadership when we didn’t get that last year. They don’t want to repeat a bad ending to what could have been a great season.
H: What is the general feeling you have about this team heading into these final games?
JM: I think right now we’re just really focused, trying not to let down, and trying to practice at a high level. I think we’re more focused on us than the opponent right now.
H: Do you think you have to win the A-10 Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament this year?
JM: That will remain to be seen, but I think our league is much better this year, and our RPI (ratings percentage index, a measure of strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule) is in the 20s (26), whereas it was 60 last year. So I think we are in a much better position (to make the NCAA tournament), but I certainly don’t want to leave it up to the committee. You want it to be a situation where you know you’re going – where you earn the automatic berth.
H: Greeba Outen-Barlow and Valerie Williams have both been excellent off the bench this season. Do you feel like you have a better threat off the bench this year than in the past?
JM: Yeah, those two have been really like starters for us, and when you can bring in a 1,000 point scorer off the bench with Erica Lawrence, you’re coming in with three or four excellent people. I’ll also put Liz Dancause in that group. Valerie basically won the St. Joe’s game for us, and Greeba is giving us great offense with a different look. And I think you’re going to see a lot out of Liz in the next couple of weeks.
H: Successful teams in March usually have an unsung hero step forward. Do you think Liz Dancause could be that player?
JM: She’s got a chance. She’s just getting healthy (from stress fractures in her legs) and she’s just now getting her game back. She could be our secret weapon down the stretch.
H: Do these added weapons make this team compare with any of your teams that went deep into the NCAA tournament?
JM: Well, the fans that have been around a long time have been comparing them to the team in ’97 (that went to the Elite 8), but I try to stay away from that because each team is different and the personalities are different. I learned a long time ago that each team really wants to have their own identity, and I think these girls are in a good place right now and feel good about themselves. To compare them is probably not fair to this team or the great teams we had in the past.
H: This team gave you your first four-game losing streak, but then responded with an 11-game winning streak. After watching them for almost an entire season, do you think they’re capable of putting up a banner of their own?
JM: I think they’re capable of a lot of good things in March. You want to be playing your best basketball going into the A-10 Tournament and if we get to the NCAA Tournament, it becomes mainly about match-ups and styles of play. You’re going up against teams from other parts of the country that you haven’t played before, and so it’s really about match-ups. We’ve got good size and we shoot the ball really well, so I think we’d have a good chance.