By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 8, 2010; D08
Toward the end of last season, just after the Georgetown women's basketball team received its first postseason bid in six years, Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy turned to her assistants and told them: "You know what? I don't like the way we play."
It didn't matter that the Hoyas were enjoying their most successful season in nearly a decade. Williams-Flournoy wanted to change the team's style of play, and she wanted to change it right away.
And so before its Women's National Invitation Tournament opener against Winthrop, Georgetown scrapped its half-court game plan in favor of a strategy that relied on full-court pressure defense. It turned out to be a smart coaching maneuver. The Hoyas enjoyed their most successful postseason run, reaching the WNIT quarterfinals, and now have vaulted into the national rankings for the first time since the end of the 1992-93 season. The Hoyas (12-2, 1-0 Big East) are ranked No. 25 in this week's USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll and have been receiving votes in the Associated Press poll the past four weeks.
"We just want to pressure, pressure, pressure," Williams-Flournoy said.
Georgetown, which heads into its game at South Florida on Saturday riding an 11-game winning streak, has become an entirely different team since consecutive losses to Seton Hall last March, one in the regular season finale and the next in the first round of the Big East tournament. The Hoyas have transformed into a fast-paced, defense-first team that leads Division I in steals (214) and ranks second in turnover margin (plus-10.79). Since switching strategies, Georgetown has allowed only two opponents to score more than 70 points.
"Going into my sophomore year, we were really a half-court team," said junior guard Monica McNutt (Holy Cross), who leads the team with 44 steals and is one of the few upperclassmen on the roster. "We wanted to come down, set our offense. You know, it's a hard day in the office trying to set our offense in the Big East. That's tough work.
"We realized we're fast enough, we're a small team, but we're fast enough to get up and down [the court]. We can get out and get steals. . . . By the time we got to the WNIT, it was like: 'You know what? A layup is far easier than coming down and setting up an offense and having to play defense and all that nonsense. Okay, let's do what we like to do and what works for us.' It was fun for us. It was so much fun for us."
The momentum from the WNIT run carried forward to this season. In the season's fifth game, Georgetown went to Purdue and knocked off the Boilermakers, 55-39, holding them to 14 second-half points and forcing 27 turnovers. The Hoyas followed up that impressive performance with wins against three ACC teams in Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Clemson. They opened Big East play on Saturday by winning at Syracuse, handing the Orange its first loss of the season. Syracuse had 33 turnovers, which Georgetown converted into 31 points.
"They get mad when a team actually gets the ball up the floor and we haven't forced a turnover," Williams-Flournoy said. "You can hear them start getting into each other: 'We're not playing defense. Let's go.' "
Despite Georgetown's early success, Williams-Flournoy is not satisfied. The Hoyas have yet to finish with a winning conference record in her five previous seasons at the school and they've never won a Big East tournament game in her tenure. They've had only seven winning seasons since they went to the NCAA tournament in 1993.
Yet, even as she frets about the team's flaws, such as rebounding, an area in which the height-challenged Hoyas sometimes struggle, Williams-Flournoy recognizes this team is something special.
The players "would probably be shocked if they ever read this: They're good. We're good. We're a good team," she said. "This is the team that I always dreamed of: running, pressing, getting out, getting after it. That's always the way that I envisioned."