At first, it would seem like nothing is new for the GW women’s basketball team this March. Just like last year, they won the Atlantic 10 regular season. Just like last year, they are the No. 1 seed in the West. And just like last year, they have a first round bye in this weekend’s A-10 tournament.
But there’s one thing the Colonial women hope will be different about this year’s tournament, which starts Thursday at Rhode Island’s Ryan Center. They hope to win.
“There is some residue left over from last year with our players,” head coach Joe McKeown said, referring to his team’s second-round tournament loss to Xavier and subsequent denial from the NCAA Tournament last year. “But each team is different and each year is different so it’s hard to compare.”
While the situation and the team may look the same as last year on the surface, McKeown and his players know this year’s squad is distinct. They have said last year’s upset left them hungry for revenge, but they do not want to harp on past mistakes.
“Everybody is asking, ‘can GW do it this year?'” junior Ugo Oha said. “We’re not going to dwell on last year or the year before that.”
As opposed to last year’s team, which entered the tournament after suffering its first and only conference loss to UMass the week before, the 2003 Colonials (21-6, 15-1, 7-10) head into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. The team is riding a six-game winning streak and has 17 wins in its last 18 games. And McKeown said this year’s team is better than last year’s both mentally and physically.
McKeown pointed to increased senior leadership this year, in the form of Erica Lawrence and Lindsey Davidson, as opposed to the team’s lone senior last year, Elena Vishniakova, who was out the second half of the year with a season-ending knee injury.
Another big difference is senior red-shirt Cathy Joens, who has scored more than 20 points in her last four games and was named the A-10 Player of the Year Wednesday. Joens, who last year was working out the kinks in her first season back from an ACL injury, is leading the Colonials in scoring at 19.7 points per game, as opposed to 15.3 points per game last year. She is a big reason the Colonials rank eighth in the nation in field goal percentage.
Beside the obvious advantage of another year’s worth of experience under Oha’s belt, McKeown said his bench players, including A-10 Sixth Player of the Year junior Valerie Williams and sophomore Greeba Outen Barlow add a depth his team did not have last season.
Davidson, who has seen her team lose in the A-10 tournament the past three years, is confident that this year’s team can bring the trophy back to the Smith Center.
“Last year we went into the tournament 15-1 and we had beaten
Xavier twice,” she said. “It’s very hard to beat a team three times in a row, and I would gladly trade a regular season loss for a win in the tournament.”
With a first-round bye Thursday, the Colonial women will make their first tournament appearance Friday, playing the winner of the Fordham/ Duquesne game at noon at Rhode Island’s Ryan Center.
The Colonials beat Fordham (14-15, 5-11 A-10) in New York Jan. 15 and beat Duquesne (14-13, 7-9 A-10) twice, at home Feb. 15 and on the road Feb. 27.
St. Joseph’s (18-9, 13-3 A-10) and Temple (13-14, 9-7 A-10) also receive first round byes as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the East, respectively, as does Xavier (19-8, 11-5 A-10) as the No. 2 seed in the West, behind GW.
In other first-round games, St. Bonaventure will play Richmond, Dayton will play URI and LaSalle will play UMass.
The Colonials will not have a chance to avenge last year’s Xavier loss unless they make the tournament finals. But even with Xavier, the team that handed GW its only conference loss this season in a quadruple overtime game last month, out of the way, the Colonials are not taking any opponents for granted.
“There are lots of teams to be careful of and it could be Xavier or it could be St. Joe’s or it could be anybody on any given day,” Oha said.
If GW does reach the final, it hosts the game at the Smith Center, broadcast on ESPN2, Monday at 5 p.m., a scenario Davidson called “the icing on the cake.”