Posted Saturday, Mar. 6, 7:30 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA- After beating La Salle by double digits twice during the regular season, the GW women’s basketball team entered their quarterfinal match-up in the Atlantic 10 Tournament as heavy favorites against the Explorers. But La Salle played a scrappy game Saturday and almost pulled off the upset before senior Marsheik Witherspoon hit two free throws in the final minute to seal a 64-61 victory.
The West No. 1 seed Colonials (22-6, 15-2 A-10) led throughout most of the game, but GW went cold and the West No. 5 seed Explorers (15-13, 7-10 A-10) got hot late in the second half. A Crista Rickets jumper with just under two minutes left gave La Salle its first lead since the opening minutes at 59-58. But after the teams traded baskets, senior Cathy Joens hit a jumper from the top of the key to put the Colonials back on top.
GW followed with a defensive stop, but junior Anna Montanana could not convert the front end of a one-and-one from the free throw line, giving the Explorers another chance to take the lead. La Salle would fail again, and this time Witherspoon was fouled with 20 second left. The Explorers tried to ice her with a timeout, but the senior guard was unfazed and hit both free throws.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” Witherspoon said. “I knew they would eventually fall, so I just shot them like I usually do and they fell.”
La Salle’s Meghan Wilkinson attempted an NBA-range three pointer as time expired, but it clanked off the side of the rim, sending GW into the semifinals against St. Jospeh’s.
“It’s a very big game because the first one is always the hardest to play,” said Witherspoon, who finished with 12 points and six assists. She was joined in double figures by Joens, Montanana and senior Ugo Oha.
Earlier in the week, Oha was named the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year but was left off the All-Conference First Team for the second straight season. She responded with ten points, six rebounds and five blocks.
“I continued to play my game. I am trying to be a presence in the lane,” Oha said. “I have to keep my reputation as Defensive Player of the Year.”
The Colonials held a 39-29 lead at halftime and the deficit hovered around eight for the first ten minutes of the second half. On multiple occasions, GW had an opportunity to extend its lead but couldn’t capitalize on lay-ups and inside shots.
With ten minutes remaining and the Colonials leading 54-46, the Explorers started a 13-4 run over a seven-minute span to give them a one-point advantage. During that run, the Colonials went five minutes without making a single field goal.
“We just didn’t make shots,” GW head coach Joe McKeown said. “We had a big lead, then La Salle started making every shot. It’s one of those classic situations. They have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose.”
Joens struggled throughout the game, going 4-for-14 from the field two days after she was named the A-10’s co-Player of the Year with Duquesne’s Candace Futrell. Joens finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“(Cathy) short-armed it a little bit today,” McKeown said. “She’ll be fine tomorrow. I don’t worry about her.”
Junior Anna Montanana had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but all of her points came in the first half. After winning her second-straight A-10 Sixth Player of the Year award, senior Val Williams added seven points and two rebounds.
Junior Jill Marano led the Explorers, going 5-for-7 from three-point land while scoring 19 points. Sophomore Daniella Payne and A-10 Rookie of the Year Crista Ricketts each tallied 11 points.
The Colonials will square off at 2 p.m. Sunday against the St. Joseph’s Hawks (19-9, 13-4 A-10), who are hosting the tournament. In their only meeting this season, St. Joseph’s stunned GW with a 64-62 victory at the Smith Center, ending the Colonials’ five-year home unbeaten streak in the conference.