In 7 1/2 years as a head coach at George Mason, Debbie Taneyhill hasn't experienced anything like this season. Each time the Patriots step on the court, Taneyhill wonders if they will be able to produce enough points to win.
"I've never coached a team like" this, Taneyhill said. "I've always had very good offensive teams. We've always had to stress the defense and work hard on defense. This year, it's the opposite."
Sixth-seeded George Mason (11-15), which plays a Colonial Athletic Association tournament quarterfinal game against No. 3 Drexel (18-9) tonight at Patriot Center, has struggled to score this season. The Patriots, who average 58.2 points per game, have lost five games this season in which they've held their opponent under 60 points.
"That's unheard of," Taneyhill said. "Our defense has to be strong. We have to keep people to low numbers or we better hope and pray it's going to be a good day for us and the ball's going in."
Jen Daniels, the only player scoring in double figures (11.2 points per game) for George Mason, has no explanation for the Patriots' offensive woes.
"It varies from game to game," Daniels said. "I know for Lauren [Hediger] and I, if we go out and we hit [shots], if we can get on a run real quick and knock down some threes, I think it gets everybody fired up."
Fortunately for the Patriots, their defense has been solid most of the season. George Mason has allowed only five opponents to score more than 70 points, and none has passed that threshold since Jan. 16. The Patriots hold their opponents to 59.6 points per game.
This is the third meeting this season between George Mason and Drexel. The first time the teams met, the Patriots lost, 59-55. In the final regular season game a week ago, George Mason beat the Dragons, 46-44. In that game, the Patriots went scoreless for 8 1/2 minutes late in the second half, but still managed to win.
"We know that we can play with basically anyone in the league," Daniels said. "It just depends on what kind of night we have. We even don't know sometimes. If our shots are falling and we're scoring, it seems to get a lot more going for us. It picks up our intensity and everything a lot more. But I think this is a whole different time now. I think everybody is going to be a lot more fired up."
For years, this event has seemed like the Old Dominion Invitational as the Lady Monarchs won 13 consecutive tournament titles. But now their hold on the championship may be loosening as the tournament moves from their home court in Norfolk to Fairfax, giving the rest of the teams, including George Mason, reason to hope.
"I do think the conference is more wide open this year than it has been in the past," Taneyhill said. "In the past, you've always been able to look and kind of know the teams you have to go through to get to the championship game or get to the NCAA tournament. I don't think it's as clear cut this year because first of all we're playing in a different venue. Secondly, everybody has beaten everybody from one really through nine. We've had so many upsets, such inconsistent play. . . . I think that's going to make for a very interesting tournament."