George Mason women's basketball coach Debbie Taneyhill glanced up at the scoreboard with less than eight minutes to go in the first half and saw her Patriots had scored just four points.

"Believe it or not, I thought [to myself], I hope we can get to double figures before halftime," Taneyhill said.

That inauspicious start did not keep George Mason from beating American, 56-52, in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams at Patriot Center.

It was 10 minutes 15 seconds into the game before a jumper by Jen Surlas put the Patriots (5-7, 1-0 CAA) on the scoreboard. By then, American (7-4, 0-1) had jumped to a 12-2 lead. Surlas, who had just two points at halftime on 1-of-6 shooting, finished with 15 points to lead all scorers.

"It was real choppy [in the first half]," Surlas said. "We couldn't get into an offense."

While Taneyhill lamented George Mason's lack of scoring to start the game, American Coach Jeff Thatcher bemoaned his team's poor free throw shooting at the end. The Eagles missed nine free throws down the stretch, including the front end of a one-and-one, and did not score the last 3:17. American made 5 of 15 free throws in the second half and finished 10 of 24.

"It's a shame it got down to a matter of one possession, winning or losing the game," Thatcher said. "If we had made some gosh darn free throws we probably wouldn't have been in that situation."

American held a lead until Jill Bartley put back an errant shot to put George Mason ahead, 44-43, with 9:06 to play. After that, the lead changed hands seven times before the Patriots took the lead for good on a layup by Jill Regan with 1:28 left.

George Mason was picked in the preseason to finish second in the CAA, but came into the game with a worse record than American, which was picked to finish last. The Patriots had lost six of their previous eight games, including losses to then-No. 11 Duke, Santa Clara and South Carolina.

"I think this legitimizes a tough nonconference schedule when you come out and win your first conference game," Taneyhill said.

Box score on Page D14

CAPTION: GMU's Jen Surlas sets against American's Elizabeth Widman and Latisha Irwin. After rocky first half, Surlas finished with 15 points to lead all scorers.