Dancing all the way to Dallas: Women make Sweet 16 berth

Of the 16 teams to make it to the third round of the women’s NCAA tournament, five upset higher seeds to get there. That includes fifth-seeded GW, who, after defeating No. 4-seed Texas A&M 59-47 in the second round, will now face top-seeded North Carolina Sunday in Dallas.

Two years ago, GW fell at the hands of the Tar Heels in the second round. Four of this year’s starters played on that team, while North Carolina boasts six of the same category. But coach Joe McKeown said that his squad from two years ago is not the same team he has today.

“We’re much different now,” McKeown said. “Our biggest player was probably six-foot and we really got crushed on the boards. We were young and had overachieved all year. It was a great learning experience for (the four players who were on the team two years ago). They all played a lot of minutes in that game. That’ll help Sunday.”

Senior Kenan Cole, who was on the team that lost to North Carolina, said that GW may be able to draw something from the game in 2005.

“We can definitely look back to that game and see some of the things that we did do well against them and continue to do that, but our team is different now and there are strengths and weaknesses that go along with that,” Cole said. “We’re going to take everything we’ve done this season and just prepare for them knowing they do have a good team.”

Size is the Colonials’ friend this time around, as sophomore twins Jessica and Jazmine Adair stand at 6 foot 4 and 6 foot 3, respectively. North Carolina freshman Jessica Breland, sophomore Iman McFarland and junior LaToya Pringle are each 6-foot-3 but only Pringle, a starter, sees double-digit minutes.

The Tar Heels’ Ivory Latta is the team’s real threat. The 5-foot-6 senior guard averages 16.4 points per game and is one of the most productive players in North Carolina history, as she leads the program in scoring, assists and three-point conversions. She was ESPN.com’s 2006 Player of the Year and the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament MVP.

Latta is also a candidate for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the top point guard in the country, an honor for which GW junior Kim Beck has also been nominated. Beck, who is 5-foot-8, averages 11.5 points per game but has a tendency to score when it matters (she had 18 against Texas A&M in the second round).

For Cole, the team’s only senior, every game could be her last but she said knowing her days as a Colonial are limited hasn’t been her top motivation.

“To be honest, I hadn’t thought of it that much,” Cole said. “It’s not one of the forethoughts in my mind. Every game, especially since it’s tournament time, one of the main focuses for myself and my team is not leaving anything on the floor because it is ‘one and done,’ and everyone comes to play.”

This is the Colonials’ fifth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament but its first trip to the Sweet 16 in 10 years. In those 10 years, McKeown’s teams have lost in the second round five times and gone out in the first round another two times. It seemed the hump that must be overcome in order to play in the second weekend had been too high, until this season.

Many parallels exist between the 1997 squad, which reached the Elite Eight, and the one representing GW today. Both cracked the top ten in the national polls and both ended their showing at the Atlantic 10 conference tournament with a loss to Saint Joseph’s.

And that season, McKeown’s squad beat North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

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