George Washington Coach Joe McKeown routinely watches his Colonials turn tight games into blowouts, as in last night's 89-52 defeat of Dayton at Smith Center. But the thought hangs with him that the fireworks his team routinely provides are nothing but a show before the real season begins in March.
"When we get to the Atlantic 10 tournament, the NCAA tournament, we're going to have to be able to win games 52-50, not 90-to-whatever," McKeown said. "We've had to emphasize that in practice more, but we're getting better at it."
Last night, the Colonials did what they do best, get the ball into the open court and score in transition. Cathy Joens led four scorers in double figures with 25 points, as George Washington (18-6, 12-1) capitalized on 27 Dayton turnovers, using 19 steals and 29 defensive rebounds to catalyze its fast break.
"They're like sharks in the water," Flyers Coach Jaci Clark said.
After using an 11-2 run to take a 42-26 lead at halftime, George Washington began the second half flat, as Dayton (13-12, 6-8) cut the lead to 46-34 three minutes in. But after forward Cyndi Stull lost the ball on the Flyers' ensuing possession, Joens put back Anna Montanana's miss and was fouled, sinking the free throw for a 15-point lead. The play sparked a 13-0 run that buried Dayton's hopes and doubled the Colonials' lead within three minutes.
"We get it down to a 12-point game and have the ball, then we give up a turnover and they get" a three-point play, Clark said. "That just kills you."
Eleven of George Washington's victories have come by margins greater than 15 points. The Colonials lead the conference in scoring, at 73.2 points per game, and are second in turnovers caused, at 20.2.
But with a wary eye on the postseason, and the accompanying physical games, McKeown changed the way the team practiced after the Colonials' loss to Rutgers Dec. 29, the third loss of a four-game skid. The coaches stressed rebounding, helping on defense and screening, the three things he thought his team had to get better at to win close games. After losing to Georgetown by five in their next game, the message sank in, and the Colonials have won three of four games decided by six points or fewer.
"When we get on these runs, we're a difficult team to beat," McKeown said. "When we can't do that, we still need to be able to grind out games."
The emphasis on rebounding and defense has paid off in the team's transition game. After rebounds, the immediate instinct is to run, said center Ugo Oha, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
"Rebound and run, rebound and run," Oha said. "It really wins games for us."
* GEORGE MASON 47, DELAWARE 36: Freshman reserve Jen Daniels had 14 points and three to lead the Patriots at home.
The Patriots (10-10, 7-6 Colonial Athletic Association) ended a four-game winning streak for Delaware (16-7, 11-3), which had its lowest point total since Jan. 17, 1980.