Not much went right for ninth-ranked George Washington yesterday afternoon. The Colonials struggled offensively. The one player who was scoring sat on the bench with an ice pack on her shoulder during the final minutes. They were outrebounded mercilessly by Temple. And they were in foul trouble.
Yet somehow, whenever GW needed a big shot, the Colonials got one. Showing remarkable poise, GW held off a scrappy Temple team, 56-53, to win its sixth consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference regular season championship. The Colonials (25-2, 14-0), who went undefeated in conference play for the third time in school history, earned the top seed in the upcoming league tournament.
"This team is special because it's the ultimate team," GW Coach Joe McKeown said. "It's very balanced, and there's great chemistry."
The largest Smith Center women's basketball crowd this season -- 2,002 fans that included a sizable Temple contingent -- was rewarded for braving the winter weather with a tense game that came down to the final possession. Temple (23-6, 13-1) had a chance to force overtime, but Kamesha Hairston's three-point shot hit the front of the rim and bounced away as time expired.
GW had to feel fortunate that it managed to continue its 18-game winning streak, the second-longest in school history. The Colonials missed 12 of their first 14 shots as Temple built an 11-5 lead. Leading scorer Jessica Adair was saddled with fouls. Kim Beck, the Colonials' best outside threat, seemed to misplace her shooting touch. Kenan Cole was caught up in the emotion of senior day, leaving Sarah-Jo Lawrence to carry the team offensively.
Lawrence, who injured her shoulder in the game's final minutes, scored GW's first 11 points and finished with 19. Lawrence said afterward her shoulder was fine.
It was bad enough that the Colonials weren't scoring, but they also weren't rebounding. Temple was getting two, three, sometimes four shots a possession. The Owls, who lead the Atlantic 10 in rebounding margin (9.1 per game), grabbed nearly as many offensive rebounds (22) as GW had total rebounds and outrebounded the Colonials 48-27.
"It just seemed like every time the shot went up all five of them were already in the paint and crashing," Lawrence said. "We needed to have all five people in the paint, too, and we didn't at times. That hurt us."
Temple's first-half sloppiness (15 turnovers) and poor shooting (35.6 percent) helped GW overcome its shortcomings, but the contributions the Colonials received from their role players proved the difference.
Reserve forward Jamila Bates provided a huge boost in the first half when she scored on back-to-back possessions. Bates finished with seven points, one fewer than she scored in the last six games combined. Because Whitney Allen usually does everything but score, Temple didn't think it had to guard her. Allen proved the Owls wrong by making key baskets.
"Her value doesn't show up in the stat sheet," McKeown said of Allen, who had eight points.
As regular season champions, GW has a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which begins Friday in Cincinnati. The Colonials, who will try to win their first Atlantic 10 tournament title since 2003, will play the winner of No. 8 La Salle (19-10) and No. 9 Dayton (11-18) in a quarterfinal game on Saturday at noon.
Temple, the three-time defending Atlantic 10 tournament champion, is the No. 2 seed.