Despite all its improvement the past year, George Washington always seemed one win from declaring itself a contender in the Atlantic 10.

But last night at the Smith Center the Colonial Women not only declared themselves for real, they shouted it, blowing past conference powerhouse St. Joseph's, 63-47, to improve their record to 9-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference.

The Hawks (7-3, 2-1) had won 50 of their previous 56 conference games and had been to the last six NCAA tournaments, but they were no match for sharp-shooting George Washington, who opened a 15-point halftime lead and led by 26 in the second half.

"We needed to beat someone the caliber of St. Joseph's to say to, not just our league, but to our team that we can beat St. Joseph's, we can beat Rutgers, we can beat Penn State," said George Washington Coach Joe McKeown. "I think that's why it's such a big win."

The only thing more shocking than the margin of the victory was how routine it seemed. The Colonial Women won without much help from leading scorer Jennifer Shasky and without dominating the rebounding. But they forced 22 turnovers, controlled the tempo and received a good offensive performance from a previously untapped source.

Center Mary K. Nordling led George Washington with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but guard Wanda Lanham -- who entered shooting 28 percent -- added 14 on five-of-11 shooting, which helped make up for Shasky's two-of-nine, five-point performance.

George Washington took control early, opening a 20-9 lead on three-pointers by Lanham and Anne Riley.

Six minutes later, the Colonial Women ran off eight unanswered points to take a commanding lead. After Riley's 16-footer, Nordling -- who entered with two assists all season -- fed Kristin McArdle and Shasky for baskets on consecutive plays. Nordling then hit a turnaround jumper to complete the run and give the Colonials a 35-18 lead with three minutes left in the half. ST. JOSEPH'S (47)

Dougherty 0-1 2-2 2, Codner 4-7 4-6 12, Brink 0-5 2-2 2, Anderson 4-8 1-2 12, Curry 2-10 0-0 4, Harmon 1-3 0-0 2, Huelsman 1-1 0-0 2, Balaban 3-6 0-0 7, Bostik 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 17-43 9-12 47.

GEORGE WASHINGTON (63)

McArdle 2-7 3-4 7, Shasky 2-9 0-0 5, Nordling 7-9 1-3 15, Riley 3-8 3-3 10, Lanham 5-11 2-2 14, Nixon 0-1 0-0 0, Lee 0-1 0-0 0, Dolphin 2-4 0-0 5, Seifert 1-2 5-6 7, Phillips 0-1 0-0 0, Franklin 0-1 0-0 0, Mercer 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 14-18 63.

Halftime: George Washington, 39-24.

Three-point goals: St. Joseph's 4-11 (Anderson 3-5, Balaban 1-2, Curry 0-4); GW 5-11 (Lanham 2-3, Dolphin 1-1, Shasky 1-3, Riley 1-3, Phillips 0-1). Rebounds: St. Joseph's 33 (Dougherty 10); GW 38 (Nordling 10). Assists: St. Joseph's 6 (Anderson, Curry 2); GW 12 (McArdle, Lanham 3). Total fouls: St. Joseph's 16, GW 15. A -- 152.