The George Washington team is learning the facts of life in the fast lane of college basketball.
Last night, the Colonials caught up with 15th-ranked Kansas only to falter offensively and lose, 76-70, before 4,210 at Smith Center. Three times in a row, and in similar fashion, GW (4-3) has lost to more talented teams.
GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob thought his team should have won. "I don't want to take credit away from Kansas," he said. "They're a good team and well coached. But we had an opportunity to win the game, and we should have won the game."
It was 50-50 last night when Kansas (8-1) went on a 14-3 streak that put the game away. GW, which caused 28 turnovers with aggressive man-to-man defense, was unable to get the ball inside to center Mike Brown (19 points, nine rebounds) and took too many long jump shots.
"Ninety-nine percent of the teams that take those jump shots like that won't beat us," center Greg Dreiling said after scoring a career-high 23 points.
And GW didn't, shooting just 36.2 percent for the game. Although Brown was six for 13 shooting inside, the other Colonials shot 33.9, including 26 misses in 33 attempts by the other four starters.
The Colonials failed to capitalize on their opportunities, unlike Kansas. The 14-3 run gave Kansas a 64-53 lead with 6:45 to play. But, by then, George Washington forwards Steve Frick and Chester Wood, both key defenders, had fouled out. When GW missed jumper after jumper, the Jayhawks were able to run and score before GW set up its defense.
The Colonials' opportunity to pull away came early in the half, after Brown had scored on three straight possessions and they led, 43-40. For the next 12 possessions, the Colonials forced seven turnovers, but were able to muster only two free throws on offense, one each by Brown and Wood.
GW's perimeter shooters, who were seven for 17 in the first half from outside 16 feet, became even colder. They didn't make a jump shot until the ninth minute of the half.
Neither starting guard, Troy Webster (four for 13, one for seven in the second half) or Mike O'Reilly (one for eight, zero for six the second half) could hit a jumper. Gimelstob, who was upset afterward, thought his team was too impatient. "There is a difference between an open shot (which the Colonials were getting) and a good shot," he said.
Joe Wassell scored a career-high 21 points for GW on eight of 11 shooting. But he was not in the game at this stage, as Gimelstob played with his best defensive lineup. From the bench, it looked like this to Wassell:
"It's not (lack of) confidence. We feel we can play with these guys, like tonight. Kansas is a good team, but I feel we could have beat them tonight. It's just that we don't have that much experience playing against these teams day in and day out.
"To play these teams day in and day out, we can handle them a lot better. We played really hard, and we were confident. We might get a lead and we might hurry some shots, and we might take a couple of quick shots because we have a lead, and we want to beat the team too fast.
"We have to be patient and just build the lead to seven, nine points. We want to get that kind of lead too quick, maybe, instead of just building on it real slowly. We try to put a team away too fast."
By the time GW got through this stretch, both Wood and Frick, a junior making making his first start (in place of Danny Williams), were in foul trouble. With Frick and Wood playing defense, Kansas had 11 turnovers in its first 23 second-half possessions. But the Jayhawks had only four turnovers the rest of the game, finishing with 24.
GW led for the last time at 50-48 on Wassel's first basket of the second half. But freshman Danny Manning, held well in check by Frick in the first half, made a 15-footer and it was tied.
After an offensive foul on Brown, forward Ron Kellogg made a jumper from the corner and it was 52-50. Then Wassell threw away a pass, and Kellogg converted two free throws for a 54-50 lead. Troy Webster missed another jumper, and GW had another turnover, before Kansas scored on six straight possessions and led, 66-55.
By now, Kansas was turning GW's misses into fast-break baskets. GW got as close as five, at 70-65, as Wassel made his last five shots. And, with GW having to chase, the Jayhawks' superior talent was adequate to staying one step ahead as guards Calvin Thompson (16 points) and Mark Turgeon made good passes.
Although Kansas had played somewhat tentatively, Coach Larry Brown was satisfied with the victory in the team's first road game (it had played in the Great Alaska Shootout).
"I expected to be a little tentative, but we won the game," he said.
Dreiling explained the tentativeness by saying the Jayhawks usually play that way in a zone.
"When we go from man-to-man to zone, we start standing," Dreiling said. "When he (Brown) calls zone, we go dead for a few minutes. But when it's going good, we do well, and that's why we stay in it."