Lawrence leads women to two wins

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PHILADELPHIA, Penn – This week, strong guard play has been vital to success. The GW women’s basketball team drew on sophomore Sarah-Jo Lawrence to win two games in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Philadelphia to advance to Monday’s championship against No. 20/22 (USA Today/Associated Press) Temple.

The squad defeated Richmond Saturday 61-51 and then beat St. Joseph’s the following day, 53-51.

The Colonials (22-7) trailed both teams by one at the half but were fueled by strong play from Lawrence late in both games.

Lawrence, who was recently named the A-10 sixth player of the year, scored 14 points in both games.

“She just makes plays,” GW head coach Joe McKeown said. “I’m glad she’s on my team.”

Opposing coaches respected the fundamental ball handler.

“Lawrence does a great job,” Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said. “She’s a go-getter type of kid. I thought she did a very good job disrupting our offense.”

The Colonials were also led by the aggressive play of senior Jessica Simmonds. Her 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Spiders in the quarterfinals and eight points against the Hawks in the semifinals kept the Colonials alive in their quest to reach the tournament finals.

GW’s game against St. Joseph’s (20-10) was a true road game, as the tournament is being held in the home of the Hawks, Alumni Fieldhouse.

“This is their house, their fans come out to support them; they were really loud, it’s a distraction,” Simmonds said. “But we have to come out here and play to the best of our ability, regardless of if it’s home or away.”

For Simmonds, the team’s only senior, every game could be her last. Unless the Colonials win Monday’s matchup against Temple (23-7), a spot in the NCAA Tournament is uncertain.

Sophomore Kim Beck would prefer not to leave their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

“We don’t want to put it to chance,” she said Sunday. “We want to win tomorrow and get that automatic bid.”

Beck’s clutch shooting in the team’s first two games will be important in Monday’s game. All of Beck’s 12 points against Richmond came in the second half, and a successful three-point shot with 3:26 remaining against Saint Joseph’s put GW up 50-44.

Overall, the key to winning the final comes from the bench. Beyond Lawrence, the Colonials’ depth provides a distinct advantage, despite boasting five freshmen, a number unmatched in the A-10.

“I think they’re the deepest team left in the conference,” Griffin said. “Temple’s big but they’re not deep. GW’s got the advantage because they’re deeper. They may not have the experience, but they’re deeper.”

The Colonials enter Monday’s 5 p.m. matchup having upset the Owls twice in the regular season. The first was in early January in D.C., while the other game was just more than a week ago on Temple’s campus, also in Philadelphia.

The game will feature four first-team all-conference players. Beck and Simmonds will face junior Kamesha Hairston and senior Candice Dupree, who was also named the A-10 player of the year. Dupree dropped 31 points during Temple’s 76-63 semifinal win over Duquesne.

Dupree said of Simmonds, “She’s very, very active on the defensive end and the offensive glass. She’s quick, she’s never standing still, so you always have to be ready and active when you’re going against her.”

Temple is looking for its third straight A-10 championship.

“I don’t know if everybody predicted a GW/Temple final, but we’re prepared for any opponent,” Temple coach Dawn Staley said Sunday. “It’s great to have (these two teams) locking it up for the final. You’re probably going to get your money’s worth tomorrow.”

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