Like each of the past ten years, the GW women’s basketball team heads into the Atlantic 10 Tournament this weekend as the favorite. But for the first time in a long time, the Colonials will be defending the conference title.
While head coach Joe McKeown’s teams lived up to expectations in the 1995 and 1996 tournaments, they suffered multiple setbacks during the next six years. But after finally reclaiming their spot as A-10 champs in 2003, McKeown said his team must go into Philadelphia acting like it owns the conference.
“(They need to) make sure that when they walk on the floor Saturday, regardless of who they play, if anybody else thinks they’re going to cut the nets down, they gotta go through us,” he said. “We’re the defending champion and we have to play with that kind of fearlessness and that kind of poise.”
Unlike past years, when the championship game was played on the higher seed’s home floor, all tournament games this year will be played at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse at St. Joseph’s.
As the No. 1 seed from the West division, the Colonials (21-6 overall, 14-2 A-10) will play the winner of Friday’s game between the West No. 5 seed, La Salle (14-12, 7-9 A-10), and the East No. 4 seed, St. Bonaventure (9-18, 5-11 A-10). GW played La Salle twice this year and St. Bonaventure once, winning all three games easily.
The only teams that beat GW were St. Joseph’s (18-9, 12-4 A-10) at the Smith Center on Jan. 10 and Duquense (15-12, 10-6 A-10) in Pittsburgh on Feb. 22.
“I think the fact that we have a couple losses in conference and we haven’t been playing well the past month and we know that we kind of having something to prove in the A-10’s,” junior Liz Dancause said.
The Colonials’ loss to the Hawks, which was televised nationally on ESPN2, marked the first time in five years that GW lost a home conference game. As a result, the Colonials said that game left them hungry for a rematch.
“I want to play against St. Joseph’s,” junior Anna Montaana said. “I want to play in their home against them and show them that it was a bad day for us.”
If GW plays La Salle in its first game, East No. 2 seed St. Joe’s could loom in the semifinals. If the Colonials make it to the championship game, East No. 1 seed Temple (18-9, 14-2 A-10) is favored to meet them there. That would mean three Philadelphia opponents in three days for GW. The key to surviving such a challenge may be senior center Ugo Oha, who carried GW to the title last year, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors along the way. In GW’s 56-49 championship game victory over Rhode Island, Oha had 26 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks.
This year, Oha has been inconsistent on offense, but dominating on defense.
“She’s a senior and she has a tremendous amount of pride and knowing that her career is gonna end in the next how many weeks, I’ll think she’ll be ready to play Saturday,” McKeown said.
Winning the tournament would mean an automatic NCAA Tournament bid for GW. But losing it would mean leaving the Colonials’ postseason fate in the hands of the NCAA selection committee, which left GW out of the tournament two years ago despite a 15-1 conference record.
“I think the right approach is to say don’t leave it up to anybody else and then win the tournament,” McKeown said. “And everything else becomes seeding (for the NCAA Tournament).”