The George Washington women's basketball team has been on a steady rise all season. But yesterday it took a quantum leap toward credibility by upsetting ninth-ranked Rutgers, 77-68, at Smith Center.

After 18 attempts the Colonial Women defeated Rutgers for the first time in the program's history, rewarding a boisterous homecoming crowd of 859.

"This was a major steppingstone for George Washington," said forward Kristin McArdle, who led the Colonial Women with 19 points and 13 rebounds. "We've been trying to win a game like this all year."

"The kids played with great heart in coming back and playing well against a team that defeated them by 30 points earlier in the season," said Coach Joe McKeown. "This game was a big win for us from the standpoint of respect. George Washington has always been down and the one people beat up on. But now when people come in, they know they have to be ready to play."

The Colonial Women are certain to warrant greater consideration in the polls after their respectable showing in a loss against second-ranked Penn State and yesterday's win.

"Maybe this will wake up some people around our league and around the nation," said Rutgers Coach Theresa Grentz, whose team trailed the entire game. "The {Atlantic 10} can get three teams in the NCAA tournament. George Washington's a good team and they should be there. Unfortunately, they got some recognition at our expense."

George Washington is 17-4 overall, 10-2 in the conference. The Knights (18-3, 11-2) suffered their second consecutive loss.

In the first meeting between these teams, the Colonial Women were outrebounded 51-27, and had just one player score in double figures.

Yesterday they held their own in rebounding (38-38) and had four players score in double figures, while shooting 53 percent -- including 62 percent in the first half when Rutgers trailed by 20 points.

The frontcourt of McArdle, Jennifer Shasky (12 points) and Mary K. Nordling (14 points) outscored Rutgers's frontcourt 45-30, while helping hold Rutgers to 34 percent shooting. In her first start, freshman Makeeda Green led Rutgers with 21 points.

Rutgers played without starting point guard Lynn Ust, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament against Penn State.