George Washington women's basketball team struggles as injuries mount

Coach Mike Bozeman's team has lost nine of its last 10 games and has only one upperclassman.
Coach Mike Bozeman's team has lost nine of its last 10 games and has only one upperclassman. (Mark Gail - Washington Post)
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By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010

George Washington has been the area's most consistently successful women's basketball program for the past 18 years. Maryland may have won a national championship in 2006, but that was preceded by a 12-season stretch in which the Terrapins went to the NCAA tournament only four times and had five losing seasons. No program has been as good, year in and year out, as the Colonials.

Until this season.

GW (3-9) has lost nine of its last 10 games, a run that includes a program-record eight-game losing streak. Unless the Colonials, who open their Atlantic 10 season Saturday at Smith Center against Dayton, make a remarkable turnaround, it is likely they will wind up with their first losing record since the 1988-89 season, ending their streak of 10 consecutive postseason bids.

"We're only at 12 games, [but] I feel like we've been through three seasons already," GW Coach Mike Bozeman said.

Bozeman, in his second season, had the unenviable task of taking over a program built into a powerhouse by Joe McKeown, who is now trying to do the same thing at Northwestern. McKeown was 441-154 at GW and took the Colonials to 15 NCAA tournaments, including four trips to the round of 16 and one to the round of eight.

Though Bozeman -- who was McKeown's assistant for three years, calls McKeown his mentor and "a future Hall of Famer," and continues to seek his advice -- wants to put his own stamp on the program, he has been hampered by circumstances. Last season, he felt a responsibility to the seniors to continue McKeown's way of playing because he didn't want the coaching change to disrupt them.

Bozeman knew this season was going to be rough because of the team's youth. As he likes to say, "If you're not a freshman on my team, you're a sophomore." But then the injuries started to pile up, leaving GW with only eight healthy players.

Ivy Abiona, a third-year forward, is the team's only upperclassman. She is out for the season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament during the summer, the second knee injury of her career. Starting point guard Danni Jackson, a freshman from Forest Park High School, broke her leg during a 78-47 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 27. Before she was sidelined, GW was averaging 70 points per game and was 2-1. Without her, the Colonials are averaging 52 points per game and are 1-8.

Forward-guard Tara Booker, an Atlantic 10 all-rookie team selection last season, tried playing with chronic knee pain, a result of offseason meniscus surgery, but eventually she, too, went to the bench.

"I have been in this racket a long time, and I've never seen the injuries, and to key players, too," GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz said.

In order to have enough players to practice, GW's assistant coaches fill in. Because Bozeman wants to save his players' energy for the games, practices have been curtailed, even though the young players need more teaching, not less, in order to improve.

"I don't have the luxury of them making freshman mistakes but I have to give room for that anyway," Bozeman said. "I'm learning that during this tough time right here, it's made me better [as a coach] because I'm learning how to do different things to get the results that I want."

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