Last year, St. Joseph’s knocked the No. 1 seeded GW women’s basketball team out of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This year, the Colonials are the top seed in the conference tourney, but coach Joe McKeown does not want his team to fall into the same trap.
After a first-round bye, GW (20-7, 13-3 A-10) will take on the winner of East No. 4 Fordham (9-20, 5-11 A-10) and West No. 5 Dayton (12-15, 6-10) on Saturday at the Smith Center at 4 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
“You can’t look past anyone in this tournament, because we have learned our lesson in past years,” McKeown said. “Both teams have really improved this season, so it’s going to be a good game no matter who we play.”
GW swept the season series from rival Dayton, winning the two games by a combined 40 points. GW traveled to the Bronx to face Fordham in their only regular season match-up and won 72-50. In league play, neither team has ever beaten the Colonials.
Dayton has lost to GW by at least 10 points in the teams’ last six meetings. Fordham, which is 0-10 all-time against the Colonials, has lost every game by at least 14 points.
If the Colonials make it past the quarterfinals, they will most likely face Rhode Island or Richmond in the semis. The Spiders are 21-6 this season but finished third in the West and will play an opening round game against St. Bonaventure.
If GW wins its first two games, it would advance to the finals Monday, which will be televised live on ESPN 2 at 5 p.m.
“I think people nationwide look at the A-10 and they should see that Temple, Richmond, Xavier and us have had an impressive year and have beaten some good teams,” McKeown said. “What makes the conference tournament exciting are great match-ups.”
Despite losing stars Ugo Oha, Cathy Joens and solid contributors Valerie Williams and Marshiek Witherspoon, the Colonials have had a strong season with a roster comprised of just two seniors and 10 underclassmen. GW notched its sixth straight 20-win season, and 14th out of the past 15 years.
“The biggest key has been their determination to overcome any obstacle as a team,” McKeown said of his team. “You hear a lot of clich?s out there in the basketball and in the sports world but in all honesty this team knew that they couldn’t just stand alone on individual talent and that they had to be a team. They had to stay united all year and they have done that and I am really proud of that. It’s not an easy thing to do. Most coaches preach it all year but it doesn’t always happen.”
Seniors Anna Monta?ana and Jessica Simmonds will lead the Colonials on offense and on the boards, but GW’s spark this season has been freshman Kimberly Beck. She led the conference in assists this season (141 total, 5.22 per game) and will need to play well this weekend to guide her team to a league title.
“We are not going to win this tournament unless she plays really well,” McKeown said. “She is basically a sophomore now because she has started almost every game this year and has played against a national schedule – she is been in every environment. A lot of things have been thrown at her so I think she is prepared.”
After mid-season struggles, sophomore Kenan Cole and freshman Sarah-Jo Lawrence have been important players down the stretch off the bench.
“Sarah-Jo is the energizer who gives us that burst that we need in the middle of a half,” McKeown said. “Kenan, she has been a mainstay all year, sometimes she shot the ball really well and other times she didn’t, but effort has been terrific. She gets our team fired up, she plays really hard.”
With such a young team, McKeown has his concerns and is trying to convince his team to have tunnel vision.
“I am focused on the quarterfinal, that’s it,” he said. “We’ve got so much at stake, we could go in so many directions if we play well this weekend.”