After a tough loss at Xavier, George Washington Coach Joe McKeown had hoped for a better showing by his team last night against La Salle. But instead of easily beating a team that had lost by 30 points in each of its past two games, the Colonials struggled to a 72-56 victory in an Atlantic 10 Conference game before 1,012 at Smith Center.

"Man, the dog days of January," McKeown said. "You get into your conference [schedule] and you've got to grind things out. It was a tough game."

The Colonials (15-3, 6-1) moved a half-game ahead of Virginia Tech for the lead in the West Division and earned their 15th consecutive home victory. But it wasn't as easy as the final score indicates.

George Washington, which fell out of the top 25 rankings after losing at Xavier, lost focus at times. Perhaps it was because the Colonials already had beaten La Salle, 72-61, this season.

Whatever the reason, McKeown could not hold back his irritation. He became so disgusted at one point that he threw his suit jacket to the court. He was shaking his head, running his hands through his hair and pacing the sideline throughout the game.

It seemed as if his team was losing by double figures, not winning by that much.

"We were real choppy," McKeown said. "There was no flow to the game. We couldn't get our offense going to where we were getting shots we wanted."

The Colonials did provide a few highlights for their coach. Junior forward Petra Dubovcova made a career-high three three-pointers and finished with 20 points, one shy of her season high. Senior forward Starr Jefferson recorded her second double-double of the season, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Erica Lawrence (12 points) missed only one shot from the field and was perfect from the free throw line.

George Washington did not have an auspicious start, missing its first nine shots. The Colonials trailed 5-2 when Dubovcova made her first three-pointer, which was also George Washington's first field goal.

"I just need something to start me up. And when I'm on my way, sorry, nobody can stop me," Dubovcova said.

Her shot sparked a 17-0 run by the Colonials. But just when they started to pull away, the game started slipping from them. La Salle fought back and cut George Washington's lead to 27-20 when Shannon McDade scored six consecutive points.

McKeown had substituted liberally in the first half as the Colonials built their lead. Only one starter played more than 12 minutes before halftime. But with three freshmen on the floor at times, George Washington's execution faltered.

"Sometimes we feel satisfied with what we have," Dubovcova said. "When we play good, it really makes us think that we are good so we don't have to play our hardest to win. And I think that's what happened."

* MARYLAND 71, ST. BONAVENTURE 55: Marche Strickland had 15 points and a career-high nine rebounds for the Terrapins, who forced 29 turnovers from the visiting Bonnies (8-10).

Deedee Warley had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Terrapins (12-7), who have doubled last year's victory total. Maryland had 17 steals and outrebounded St. Bonaventure 43-32.

* VIRGINIA 58, WAKE FOREST 47: Svetlana Volnaya scored 20 points as the No. 25 Cavaliers remained tied with Duke for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a victory at Wake Forest. Virginia (15-5, 7-1) dominated Wake Forest (6-13, 2-6) in rebounds, with a 47-30 edge.

Schuye LaRue had 12 points and 13 rebounds for Virginia, and Telisha Quarles scored 13 points. Alisha Mosley led Wake Forest with 21 points, but had only four in the second half.