The rise and fall of the George Washington University basketball team the past three seasons usually has depended on the stamina of Colonial center Mike Zagardo.

A hard worker with limited physical ability, the 6-foot-10 Zagardo has been dragging by season's end, and so have the Colonials.

They lost their last four games last season, their final five in 1977-78 and four of their final six in 1976-77, Zagardo's freshman season, for final records of 13-17, 15-11 and 14-12, respectively. So, that bad ankle that kept Zagardo out of preseason drills and hampered him early in the season probably will work to his advantage now -- the proverbial blessing to disguise.

The Colonials are 13-5 and Zagardo is just now reaching his peak. Going into Wednesday's vital Eastern Eight encounter with Villanova, GW is riding a five-game winning streak with eight triumphs in the past nine games. The only loss over that span was a 17-point blowout at Villanova, by a team GW has never beaten in the fours of the Eastern Eight.

Saturday night's 26 points and 11 rebounds against Rutgers lifted Zagardo's statistics through the five-game winning streak to a 23.6 points, 13 rebounds and 71 percent shooting. Over the nine games, the numbers are 19.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 63 percent accuracy.

GW's overall play and statistics on offense have improved greatly since the Colonials shot 36.8 percent in a loss at Rutgers that left their record at 5-4. The Colonials are passing better, thanks to the emergence of freshman forward Oscar Wilmington, and have not been selfish lately.

"We've got enough good shooters that we should shoot well when we hit the open man," Coach Bob Tallent said.

In the last nine games, the Colonial have shot worse than 50 percent only twice. Neither of those games was against Villanova, when the quick Wildcats ran cirlces around GW's man-to-man defense and shot 63.6 percent. In the Colonials' three most recent games, they have shot 57.6, 56.3 and 58.9 percent, respectively.