SOUTH KINGSTON, R.I. – The GW women’s basketball team has not hosted an Atlantic 10 Tournament final since 1997 and has not won the championship since 1996. The women took care of the first drought already, with a win over Temple Saturday.
GW (23-6, 15-1 A-10) could rectify the second drought Monday night when it faces Rhode Island in the 2003 A-10 Tournament final at 5 p.m. at the Smith Center.
“It think Monday night will be packed with a phenomenal crowd. I think it will be a great vibe,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “I think it’ll be great for us. It’s one advantage to winning the regular season and hopefully it will hold up for us.”
Last time the women hosted the tourney final, they lost to St. Joseph’s 59-56 and had to watch the Hawks cut down the nets in their own gym. But GW (23-6, 15-1 A-10) has not lost a home conference game in five years, since the 1998-99 squad lost to then-conference member Virginia Tech, a streak that leaves team members confident that this year they could be cutting down their own nets.
“It’s great to be back on our home court and playing in front of friends and families in a comfortable environment,” junior Ugo Oha said after practice Sunday. “It’s like a dream, and to have everyone behind you, it’s the icing on the cake.”
One shot at redemption the GW women are unable to rectify involves Xavier, the team who knocked them out of the tournament last year and handed them their only conference loss this season. The Colonials were looking forward to facing their rival on their own turf, but the Musketeers lost to host URI in other semifinal action Saturday, leaving the Rams (16-14) to advance to the tournament final for the first time since 1984.
Senior red shirt Cathy Joens said she was disappointed she wouldn’t get to face Xavier, but her team is focused on beating Rhode Island. McKeown agreed.
“Rhode Island is on a mission right now,” he said after Saturday’s Temple game. “They took St. Joe’s out of everything they did, and you have to be impressed with (that).”
GW 64, Temple 59
Saturday, March 8
South Kingston, R.I.
Last week Ugo Oha said she wanted to win the Atlantic 10 Championship for her team’s seniors. She came one step closer Saturday, leading the Colonials over Temple in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals.
Oha notched a double double with 24 points and 13 rebounds in GW’s 64-59 victory, including a dominant basket and foul that stopped a 13-5 Temple run over the last five minutes.
“I kept thinking (over the last minutes) that we worked too hard to fall back,” Oha said. “I went back to that moment when we talked about how this year was going to be different because we were in such better shape, and I thought about doing what I can to help the team.”
Temple (14-15) climbed back from an 11-point deficit on a three-pointer from the game’s leading scorer Stacey Smalls (25 points on 8-for-18 shooting). But after a GW time out, Oha scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in the final minute, leaving GW with the five-point advantage.
“I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of Ugo, too, because she really made big plays down the stretch,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “Matchup wise, with her skill and her size, we need to get her the ball late in the game, and I thought our kids did a pretty good job of that. I’ll say this one time … not bad for a Second Team All Conference Player.”
Except for a few brief double figure leads for the Colonials, the defending A-10 Tournament Champions hung with GW, using Smalls’ 50 percent three-point shooting to climb back within reach. Smalls, who joined Oha on the A-10’s Second Team, scored 40 percent of her team’s points and hit all of its three-point shots.
“The hardest thing was putting them away. They just wouldn’t fold. Smalls had some big threes late, then we turned it over and it got real sloppy,” McKeown said. “We didn’t hold her to three the second half like we did (Duquesne’s Candace) Futrell.”
Sophomore Anna Montanana neared her career high with 13 points as Cathy Joens contributed the same number. The Colonials out-rebounded Temple 35-31, improving on what McKeown called the “Achilles heel” of his team after Friday’s win over Duquesne.
GW 76, Duquesne 58
Friday, March 7
GW Head Coach Joe McKeown wasn’t too worried when his team let its nine-point lead over Duquesne drop to one in Friday’s second-round game of the Atlantic 10 tournament. He didn’t even take off his jacket. He knew his team remembered all too well what an early exit from the conference tournament would get them, and that they did not want a repeat.
“I felt like Duquesne came in with a lot of incentives and they were pretty loose,” McKeown said. “They’re the kind of team that can get hot and string together some threes, and you end up with a ball game.”
Duquesne (15-14) did just that, keeping themselves in the game with 50 percent shooting from behind the three-point line in the first half. While GW’s leading scorer Cathy Joens attempted only one field goal in the first twenty minutes, Duquesne’s Candace Futrell sank four of her six attempts from behind the arc, heading to the locker room with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
When Joens, the A-10 Player of the Year, was held to two first-half points (both from the foul line) and Oha was held to four, junior Marsheik Witherspoon stepped up, tying a career-high 10 points in the first half. The point guard, who would break her record with two foul shots in the second half to end the day with 12 points and three steals, said her performance was evidence of her growing confidence.
“I think my team improved, and coach has been giving us so much positive talk recently, and that’s really helped us to play well,” she said. “So when they’re doubling the two best players on the team, somebody has to step up, and that just happened to be me.”
Erin Wehrle’s two three-pointers led the Dukes on a 9-2 run to start the second half, coming within one point of the regular season conference champions, but junior Ugo Oha (16 points, six blocks) said it was her team’s ability to maintain their poise that kept them ahead.
“Throughout the season we had our backs against the wall a couple of times, but the key component is that we remained poised, and that helps us a lot,” she said. “We don’t let our offense dictate our defense, and getting a couple of stops helped to get the momentum back. That was the key.”