In the preseason, his prize recruit came down with mononucleosis and a sophomore starting guard suffered a leg injury that sidelined him five weeks.

Before the first week of December was out, his team lost both games in a tipoff tournament and two starters via injuries.

This week, George Washington Coach Bob Tallent's wife came home from the hospital. She had a tumor removed. It was benign.

The Colonials, with only one victory over a representative team, have struggled to a 5-5 record. Tallent may sense his luck changing.

"While other area teams, Georgetown, American and Maryland, were getting off to good starts," said GW forward Tom Glenn, "we've had some rough luck. Now we're coming back from the injuries. The next nine days will make or break us."

Starting tonight in an 8 o'clock game at Rutgers (WEAM-1430), the Colonials get into the heart of their schedule, with four Eastern Eight games and the intense rivalry with American U.

Glenn recently returned from injury -- a broken left hand suffered trying to dunk the ball in practice the night before the Colonials lost to Villanova in an Eastern Eight game. Guard Bob Lindsay, the Colonials' best all-around player, injured a knee in the first minute of that game.

The cast is off Lindsay's knee. But the team physician will not allow him to resume practicing until after Jan. 20 and the return match at Villanova that ends the five-game, nine-day stretch that also includes league games at home against Pittsburgh and Massachusetts.

Nobody is pushing the panic button in Foggy Bottom. Dave Thornton, the prize forward recruit, is rounding into shape after mono. Curt Jeffries, the sophomore guard, again is threatening to knock three-year starter Tom Tate out as No. 1 point guard. And the players, whom Tallent complains sometimes think too much, even are rationalizing the events of the past two months.

Tallent says, "We've got to start playing well now."

As a team the Colonials are still searching for confidence. Regaining that, said center Mike Zagardo, is most important in the next nine days.

"In close games I've noticed there's some panic. We throw the ball away and make careless turnovers," he said. "If we could win a real close game against a good team down the stretch, it would do us a world of good. If we did it once, we know we could do it again."

"Beating Rutgers would really boost our confidence," said Glenn, "and the thing about it is that they're beatable. They've lost six games. They're basically a one-man team -- (All-America center James) Bailey; they've got two or three other decent players."

Rutgers is 6-5 this season, having won the prestigious Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden, but losing at home to nonpowers Lafayette and St. Peter's, a far cry from Bailey's freshman year with a superior supporting cast carrying a 30-0 record into the NCAA semifinals.

The strategy to defend Rutgers this year has been simple: sag a zone around Bailey.

Also tonight, George Mason (5-3) plays at Robert Morris (4-7).