Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and for GW it was almost the recipe for defeat. La Salle gave the sixth-ranked Colonials a look that they have rarely seen this season: a glance in the mirror.
Despite La Salle owning a 17-6 advantage in fastbreak points, a rarity for GW opponents, head coach Karl Hobbs did not see La Salle playing a similar style to his run-and-gun squad. But if a team wants to beat GW, look no farther than the first half of Wednesday night’s game.
“Their style is entirely different,” Hobbs said. “I think they’re an opportunistic team; if they had numbers they will fastbreak on you, but that’s not what they do. We forced them to play faster and they handled it well.”
Although Hobbs did not seem to agree that there were similarities in play between his squad and La Salle, he said Saturday’s battle against an eerily similar Fordham squad may shape up to be equally challenging.
La Salle, the Christian school from Philadelphia, could have soiled the GW men’s basketball team’s undefeated conference record and given themselves a longshot at an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. The Fordham Rams, also a Christian university, have a shot to spoil GW’s storybook season with an uptempo style.
A school oft-plagued with scandal and now blessed with a possible All-American, La Salle had the ingredients but was missing longevity to complete the intricate recipe needed to beat GW. Led by Darnell Harris and top NBA prospect Steven Smith, the Explorers took a few tricks from the Colonials’ repertoire to keep it close but were not able to keep GW down.
La Salle Coach John Giannini had all the condiments in order but personnel and experienced trumped method.
“George Washington was tremendous offensively in the second half,” Giannini said after the game. “They made shots, they executed well. Forty-six points in the half is a great job on their part and not a very good job on our part. They did everything.”
The Explorers exploited GW’s somewhat weak perimeter defense by getting the ball outside to Darnell Thomas, who connected on three-of-seven treys. The Explorers got off 21 from beyond the arc, two above their season average. Fordham’s averages just more than seven threes a game while La Salle averages 6.8.
La Salle was also able to clog the passing lanes by playing a successful zone defense. In GW’s last three games, zone has been the best method of tripping up the Colonials.
“I think their zone was very effective,” Hobbs said. “I think that’s an effective way to play us.”
Last season against GW, Fordham’s defense stole the ball eight times, forcing 11 turnovers compared to Wednesday night’s nine. The Colonials will need strong guard play against a Rams team that traps in a similar style to the aggressive pressure that La Salle exerted.
Without a presence inside, GW was still able to impose its trademark intense defensive pressure. The Colonials caused 19 turnovers while only giving up the ball nine times.
Unlike the strategy against La Salle, Hobbs will likely have to try to slow down Fordham’s offense, which plays at a similar speed to GW. The Colonials beat Fordham twice last year, including in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Despite denying similarities between the two teams, Hobbs said that Saturday’s battle in the Bronx will be reminiscent of the style of Wednesday night’s contest.
Hobbs said Wednesday, “I have a lot of concerns … They are very, very good at home. I suspect it will be a game very similar to this game today.”