After shooting 8-of-11 from the floor and scoring a career-high 20 points in the Colonials’ 68-60 victory at Villanova on Dec. 1, sophomore Kim Beck is prepared for what comes next: taking on the No. 1-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the Smith Center.
“It’s going to be really important to get those points against Tennessee,” Beck said. “We need Tennessee to open up so that Jessica Simmonds and Jazmin (Adair) and Chantelle (John) can dominate (under the basket) like they know how to.”
Simmonds, the team’s lone senior, displayed her talent below the hoop during her performance against the Wildcats (4-1), scoring 10 points with a career-high 14 rebounds, her second double-double of the season. Rebounding proved to be crucial in the Colonials’ win, with the team holding a 42-25 rebounding margin over Nova.
Beck believes that this will also be a key component against the Lady Vols. “Tennessee lives off of rebounds on the run so you have to get on the boards and get them off the boards,” Beck said. “If we don’t ,it’s going to be an ugly game.”
GW’s win over the Wildcats, who were previously undefeated, was also fueled by the play of sophomore Sarah-Jo Lawrence, who hit a three-pointer with the game locked at 58 with 3:40 remaining. The Colonials held the lead for the remainder of the game. Lawrence shot 6-for-8 with 15 points, 11 of them during the second half, in her 18 minutes on the floor.
“(Sarah-Jo was) terrific,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “After the trip to the Bahamas, I made a decision to put her on the bench and then take her off the bench to give us some scoring off the bench. I thought she needed to step back a little bit. I think she took it as a challenge and responded really well. She’s working really hard and making shots now, taking better shots. She made some big ones against Villanova.”
The win gives the Colonials (2-2) a 4-3 edge against the Wildcats, including an upset over then-No. 24 Nova last year in Washington.
Despite the confidence gained from the road victory, GW must now prepare for the match-up against Tennessee, a perennial powerhouse. Legendary coach Pat Summit – who is the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with 882 career victories – leads the Lady Vols.
“I think she’s given so much to women’s basketball and to the growth of our game and trying to make people realize that it’s a great sport,” McKeown said. “So I think in that area too she’s just been tremendous for our game. When you play her, you have to play the team that’s on the floor and not the history, and that’s hard sometimes.”
The Volunteers are currently 7-0, with four of those seven wins coming against ranked teams (No. 9 Maryland, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 Michigan State and No. 18 Texas). Before Sunday’s game against Stanford, Tennessee had defeated its opponents by a total of 180 points, which includes a 41-point win over Texas, who GW lost to by five in the finals of the Junkanoo Tournament in the Bahamas.
“Obviously they’re not tricky about what they do, they just keep coming at you,” McKeown said. “They get out and run, they just come at you for 40 minutes. That’s the thing you have to prepare yourself for, try to make it a game where you can control the pace more than anything else.
“They feast off of turnovers, we have to make sure that we don’t turn the ball over, get back on defense, do all the little things,” he added.
The Colonials will need to contain redshirt freshman Candice Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward who, in 2001, reportedly became the second female in history to dunk in a high school game. “Candace has become very comfortable … making good plays for us,” Summitt said. McKeown added, “I think the biggest thing with a player like Candace Parker is that, number one, you have to keep her off the offensive glass. Don’t let her back people down and go right over the top and score, make sure that in transition that you run with her. Make her have to make tough shots. She’s terrific, she was one of the best high school players that I saw in a long time.”
One advantage the Colonials have is the Lady Vols’ busy schedule. After winning the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands in late November, where they played three teams in three days, they returned home to face Texas four days later, on Dec. 1. The squad then visited Stanford on Dec. 4 before heading to D.C. to play GW.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge for us,” Summitt said. “It’s always a situation where we have a great crowd, and I think that it will test us to see our endurance and our leadership and stamina in terms of being able to play on the road on the end. I know that one thing that we understand is that it’s necessary to respect every opponent and sometimes at the end of a road trip that the last team is the most difficult, and I hope that our team will understand that.”