If you looked at Friday’s women’s basketball game between Cal and GW like a mathematical equation, the solution would show an easy win for the nationally ranked Golden Bears.
The formula looked like this: The Golden Bears had trounced GW 70-43 last year and were fresh off a Final Four appearance. The Colonials returned much of their same roster that finished only eighth in the Atlantic 10 last year.
But that formula would miss a big confounding variable – the rise of forward Megan Nipe, who became the first Colonial to score 30 points in a game in nine years as GW shockingly took down No. 10 Cal Friday.
The Golden Bears could be forgiven for forgetting to control for Nipe’s sharp-shooting skills, since the graduate student scored only nine points against them last year. But the fifth-year forward said she knew her team would beat Cal on Friday – she’d been sure all week.
“My belief to beat Cal started on Monday,” Nipe said. “I think we prepared all week and we knew that not only could we compete but we could win.”
Call it a premonition or oversized confidence – either way, Nipe was right. She led the Colonials to their first win over a top-10 team since they bested the Golden Bears in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, en route to the Sweet Sixteen – a season in which GW won their seventh straight conference title.
Nipe propelled her team, scoring a career-high 31 points, while nabbing seven rebounds, an assist, a steal and two game saving charges in the final minute. In the second half alone, Nipe scored 22 points – more than 50 percent of the Colonials’ 41 points in the half.
Her dominant performance helped the Colonials overcome a 34-41 halftime deficit, even after GW had led by as many as six points in the first half. She played smart – tapping an assist to freshman Caira Washington, and then nabbing a steal that led to a drawn foul and two successful free throws – all in the first minute of the second half.
“Honestly I didn’t realize I had that many points until probably the last couple minutes of the game and it didn’t really change how I was playing,” Nipe said.
The win helped GW as it looks to regain its A-10 conference dominance and national relevance, with Nipe and fellow graduate student Danni Jackson leading the charge to add some banners to the Smith Center rafters.
“They want to be responsible to put one of those banners up there. They walk in every day and see that, and that’s the one thing they’ve not done yet,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said.
Moving forward, the Colonials have an arguably even tougher match-up against regional rival, No. 8 Maryland. GW will head to College Park on Tuesday to face a Terrapins’ team coming off of a loss to top-ranked Connecticut.
Although GW comes in as the underdog once again, a win could propel them into a top-25 ranking of their own.
For now, the team will ride its high, as Tsipis said he knows none of his players have experienced a win as big as Friday’s.
“I couldn’t be more proud and we look forward to knowing that we can play with a lot of people in this country and the number one thing we put up is how you can compete and how you can respond,” Tsipis said.
Against Cal, GW was led by the three-ball, shooting 7-for-18 from downtown – Nipe with four and Jackson with three – and rode the strong defensive effort of junior Chakecia Miller, who pressured Cal’s Brittany Boyd, a preseason national player of the year candidate and centerpiece of Cal’s Final Four team last year.
Feeding Washington early on in the paint, the Cal defense collapsed down low, freeing up the outside for GW’s shooters, who propelled GW to as much as a six-point lead in the first half. But as the half wound down, shots stopped falling. The Colonials missed 11 of their last 14 shots in the first period and went into the locker room down by seven.
Cal’s size had started to come up big for the Golden Bears, out-rebounding the Colonials in the half 27-19, on their way to a dominating 50-39 mark on the glass and outscoring GW in the paint 44-28.
GW had hung in there against a dominant team, but coming back against the taller, more experienced Bears seemed too tall of an order.
But Nipe didn’t get the memo. Her 22 second-half points – more than half of the Colonials’ offense in the period – brought her team back into the game and eventually to victory. It was a role that Nipe said she didn’t even realize she was on until the last couple of minutes.
Her coach, though, wasn’t surprised.
“When the ball leaves Meg Nipe’s hands, I’m kind of shocked when it doesn’t go in, and obviously that’s not just tonight,” Tsipis said. “She’s had such a great preseason.”