Montanana makes the difference

Anna Montanana is the best overall player at GW, man or woman. Chris Monroe and Cathy Joens are great scorers. Ugo Oha is tremendous down low and Mike Hall looks like he’ll be putting up consistent double doubles in the future. But nobody combines it all like Montanana.

Head Coach Joe McKeown told me last week that the sophomore forward from Spain reminds him of Magic Johnson, and he was not exaggerating. In the Atlantic 10 semifinal against Temple, she hit an NBA-range three-pointer, made a brilliant behind-the-back pass and used a reverse pivot to set up a fade-away jumper down low.

She looks more natural with a basketball in her hands than anyone I’ve seen. She will often palm the ball as she surveys the court, holding it like a yo-yo, ready to manipulate it any way she desires.

Her vision compliments this control, and this is how she truly resembles Magic. If someone is cutting and gets an inch of separation, she finds them. Even if there appears to be no separation, she finds them. Ironically, her teammates often fail to capitalize on her best passes.

Last year’s roster in the A-10 tournament was virtually the same as this year’s. But last year they were upset by Xavier in the second round. The difference this weekend was Montanana, who took over Erica Lawrence’s starting role in January. Against both Duquesne and Xavier, GW saw second-half leads slip to one or two points. But as both teams applied pressure, Montanana added two elements that helped GW prevail.

One, Montanana was another ball handler to help Marsheik Witherspoon and Lindsey Davidson against extreme pressure. While turnovers have been a problem all year, GW committed few of them in critical situations this weekend, thanks in large part to Montanana. Two, because she’s a threat to hit from anywhere, Montanana’s defender had to respect her outside shot. As a result, teams couldn’t double Oha down low late in the games and she was able to take over at key moments.

Temple coach Dawn Staley called Montanana “the most dangerous player on their team.”

The former Olympian and WNBA player had even more praise.

“I thought she would be the X factor because she presents match-up problems with the way she can do so much with the basketball. She hit a 30-foot three-pointer, she can pass the basketball, she can rebound, she can post. She’s definitely a weapon offensively and probably someone we should have focused on more defensively.”

Probably is right. After the Temple game, Coach McKoewn said, “I’d have to go back deep into our program to find someone who can do things the way she can.” He’d also have to go back a few years to find the last time GW had much success in the post-season. With the way Montanana has been playing, look for that to change Monday night with their first A-10 title since 1996.

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