Column: With talent in place, attitude will be key

In the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko told us greed was good even though we’d always been taught greed was bad. In 2003, the GW women’s basketball team must learn that another less-than-desirable trait is good, because without some arrogance, the Colonials will end up repeating their past mistakes.

Against the Atlantic 10, arrogance hasn’t been a problem. GW knows it’s better than everyone else in the conference and plays like it, going 15-1 each of the past two years. But in non-conference play, there has been a different aura around the women.

There hasn’t been that cockiness, that swagger, that separates great teams from good ones. Against schools from other conferences, the Colonials have looked unsure of themselves and timid at times. And the results of those games have been devastating.

In 2001-02, GW lost to North Carolina State, Georgetown and Rice University on its way to a 5-6 non-conference record. Despite almost running the A-10 table, a loss in the conference tournament prevented GW from gaining an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. When it came time for the NCAA selection committee to give at-large berths, they didn’t invite the Colonials because of their miserable non-conference results.

Last year, the Colonials looked like they’d be fine. An early and understandable loss at Tennessee was followed by a victory over Syracuse in New York and a dominating performance over then-ranked Bringham Young University at home.

But after a one-week break for exams, GW lost four consecutive games to George Mason, DePaul, Rutgers and Georgetown. The tournament selection committee again held GW’s 5-5 non-conference record against the team, and after they won the A-10 Tournament, the Colonials were only awarded a seven seed and the pleasure of playing a first-round game against Oklahoma on the Sooners’ home floor.

This year’s non-conference schedule makes the past two years look like an intramural league. The Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend features Kansas State and Penn State, who begin this year ranked 5th and 8th in the coaches poll, respectively. The Colonials then play Syracuse, Boston College and Oregon at home before traveling to Gainesville to play Florida. And then the last non-conference game is against Tennessee, a team that beat GW by 31 points two years ago and 22 points last year. That’s a lot of big-name schools in just over a month.

The thing is, little, private GW can be just as good as any of those schools, and good enough to knock off Tennessee at the Smith Center with an amazing performance. The talent is clearly there this year with Ugo Oha, Cathy Joens and Anna Monta?ana returning. If Liz Dancause can stay healthy and play to her potential and one or more freshmen can contribute solid minutes, the Colonials have Top 10 talent and depth. All they need is the attitude.

Inherently, it’s more difficult to foster that attitude at a smaller school in a mid-level conference. For other teams that have nicer facilities and bigger crowds, it’s easy to develop that arrogant edge. Just being able to say they play in the Big East or Pac-10 lends itself to cockiness.

While the small but loveable Smith Center is great when it’s full, the atmosphere for women’s games is often lacking because there are so few fans. Big non-conference schools travel so many people to games that the home-court advantage is practically negated. And on the road against these schools, the Colonials must see other team’s crowds and wonder why they don’t receive similar support.

These factors can make it tough to be arrogant and tough to maintain their confidence through the inevitable rough spots of each game. But the women must trust their talent. They need to walk onto the floor against these big-name schools knowing they are better. They need to be so full of themselves that opposing fans hate them and opposing teams fear them. They need to treat their non-conference schedule like the A-10 and walk all over everyone they play.

This team should win the A-10 title and make the NCAA Tournament. With a good seed, they can make a run to the Sweet 16 and even further. But, as the past two years have shown, a good seed will depend largely on their performance against non-conference teams. And succeeding against those teams requires an attitude and arrogance that past teams have lacked.

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