Joe McKeown knows that North Carolina is good. He understands that Ivory Latta is great and called Erlana Larkins one of the best inside players in women’s college basketball. The last time the two teams met – the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2005 – it ended GW’s season.
If that weren’t enough, the Tar Heels are one of the four top seeds in the tournament, while the Colonials are a five seed.
“But on the flip side,” McKeown said Wednesday, “We are 28-3.”
So Sunday, when the Colonials tip off against North Carolina in Dallas, the Tar Heels are guaranteed to be the favorite. Basketball pundits may see GW as a bump in the road for the Atlantic Coast Conference power, but don’t count this team out.
One of McKeown’s worries is a phenomenon that is not uncommon in college basketball. In the second round of the tournament, the Tar Heels squeeked by Notre Dame 60-51 after trailing nearly all game. When teams struggle, they often show up in the next game with a renewed sense of confidence.
“Sometimes in the NCAA you grind it out for a win and explode the next game,” McKeown said. “We just hope that doesn’t happen with us.”
Despite an early exit to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament, this season has gone as planned for the Colonials. They lost to Maryland and Tennessee, both top-10 teams all year, but stayed perfect in the conference until the A-10 tournament. Part of that success is due to its on-court swagger.
“We don’t get too jacked up,” McKeown said. “This team doesn’t really get fazed with too much.”
It has been evident this season that the Colonials was the cream of the crop in the A-10 but the team’s prospects in the NCAA tournament were lingering all year. Could they make that elusive Final Four?
“We kind of knew if we stayed in and had no injuries, we would have a good chance of getting to the Sweet 16,” McKeown said.
For McKeown, the NCAA is always a sore spot because as this program has risen through the ranks of women’s college basketball, it seems to always get slighted. In its last 12 tournament appearances, the GW women’s basketball team has played a team on its opponent’s home court eight times. They are a rung below the level of Connecticut, Tennessee and North Carolina.
The Final Four, this year in Cleveland, has slipped away too many times for McKeown’s liking. When his squad made the Elite Eight in 1997, they had the lead over Notre Dame with three minutes to go in the game. McKeown said he could “sniff” success. The next play, the Irish completed a three point play to reverse the lead and eventually beat GW.
So beating the Tar Heels can be a panacea for McKeown’s soreness toward the NCAA.
Waiting on the other side of a victory is the winner of the Georgia/Purdue game. In the last two years, GW beat both the Bulldogs and the Boilermakers but they won’t look past Carolina. They can’t look past Carolina.