A day before the University of the District of Columbia women's basketball team would go for its 12th straight victory in what is now a 16-game winning streak, co-captains Malissa Stephenson and Arlinda Page sat in the Firebirds' gymnasium and named their team's flaws. They thought their team had not reached its potential.

The following day the Firebirds decided it was time to excel and they defeated winless Lincoln University (Pa.), 111-14, to tie an NCAA record for margin of victory. UDC likely would have surpassed the record had the game not been stopped by mutual consent with 5:27 remaining.

"We were not even aware of the record or the margin of victory {at the time} because we were trying to work on some different types of defense," said first-year coach Doc Robinson. "We were not trying to embarrass this team."

The players were both pleased and aware that not all teams are as dismal as Lincoln. "We really didn't work hard for that win, but we needed a game like that not only for the school, but for ourselves, to show what we can do," said junior guard Felicia Patilla. "We're not looking to go backwards; we're looking to go forward."

For the past three seasons, the UDC women's program had been in turmoil, with former coach Bessie Stockard fighting for her reinstatement after being fired, and a measure of uncertainty surrounding the team. Stockard finally won a lawsuit and damages from the university, but that did not include her return as coach.

This season, with a new coach -- UDC's third in the past four seasons -- a proficient scorer and rebounder in Stephenson, a defensive hound in Page and a few classy freshmen from local high schools, the Firebirds have risen to 17th nationally in Division II. Their 22-2 record is the best in the school's history.

Stephenson ranks third in Division II scoring with a 25.2 average and sixth in rebounding at 13.2; sophomore Jackie McKinnon is averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds per game and sharpshooting freshman Casie Dunmore has improved her scoring average from 4.5 points earlier to a current 10.9 points a game.

Discipline and self-composure have been the key to the Firebirds' success.

"I came in and implemented a system and some discipline in the way they played the game," Robinson said about the resurgence. "I brought in four top freshman and got some improvement out of a girl {Kimberly Wilson} that didn't play at all last season. They didn't play defense well at all last season, but we've worked extremely hard on defense and have gone strictly back to fundamentals."

Even though they average more than 80 points a game, with a 20-point margin of victory, many of the players aren't that satisfied because they feel they've yet to play their best.

"We have a pretty good chance of going to the championships {Division II championships in Springfield, Mass.}, but we haven't reached our peak yet," Stephenson said. "It will take a lot of hard work and we will have to be able to come together and stick together as a team."

Stephenson, a junior from East Orange, N.J., has led UDC in scoring 13 games and rebounding in 11. In the opening game this season, she had 40 points and 17 rebounds in a 33-point victory over St. Paul's. She followed that up with 38- and 36-point games, along with 18 and 20 rebounds, respectively.

Stephenson, a high-school teammate of Patilla's, scores most of her points from the outside, with an occasional drive. At Clifford J. Scott High, where she and Patilla won three state sectional titles, she scored at will from the inside, including a career high of 53 points.

The soft-spoken Stephenson could have played Division I basketball, but she was impressed with Stockard and the Firebirds' program.

Her play is augmented by the performance of four freshmen: Neda Jefferson, a first team All-Met from Bladensburg; Nichole Johnson, a second team All-Met from All Saints; Dunmore, who graduated from Bladensburg two years ago, and Shawnte Meadows, an intimidating center out of McKinley High.

"If they play up to their talent, they can play against anybody in the country," Robinson said. "I told them that if you keep winning, people will notice you."