When Terri Williams-Flournoy was named the women’s basketball coach at Georgetown in August 2004, the program barely rated on campus and was even less relevant nationally, with one NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
What’s more, the Hoyas’ considerable basketball legacy — not to mention a good deal of the university’s allure — was tied to the likes of John Thompson Jr., Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson and the rest. That is to say, it was strictly the domain of the men.
Making women’s basketball matter at Georgetown meant not only forging an identity distinct from the men, but also constructing a program that would be able to compete regularly with the area’s established teams. No longer could Maryland, George Washington and Virginia be the only regulars in the NCAA tournament.
Now, with their second straight NCAA tournament appearance, the Hoyas are fast becoming as relevant to local women’s basketball as any of the traditional powers. After spending the entire season in the Associated Press top 25 and compiling a 22-10 record, fifth-seeded Georgetown opens play on Sunday afternoon against 12th-seeded Princeton at Comcast Center in College Park.
“It’s not any longer: ‘Oh yeah, we have Maryland. We have GW. We have Virginia, and oh yeah, and I think Georgetown has a women’s basketball team also,’ ” Williams-Flournoy said. “That’s not the conversation anymore. It’s now Georgetown, and then Maryland, and then GW, and then Virginia. We’re no longer something just underneath the rug.”
The Hoyas made that fact abundantly clear in the season’s second game by beating Maryland, 53-45, at McDonough Arena. It was their first victory over the Terrapins, who are heading to their 19th NCAA tournament and chasing a second national championship in six seasons.
Four games later, Georgetown upset then-No. 4 Tennessee, 69-58, at the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands. The Hoyas have beaten three ranked teams this season, but none with credentials remotely close to those of the Volunteers. Tennessee has won an NCAA-record eight national titles and this season is the top seed in the Midwest Region.
Such victories have become the expectation rather than the exception since last season, when Georgetown went 26-7 and finished tied for second in the Big East with a 13-3 record. The Hoyas won 16 consecutive games on the way to their first NCAA tournament bid since 1992-93, when Williams-Flournoy was in her first season as an assistant at Georgetown.
“We want to make the tournament and a 20-win season and a national ranking — even throughout the course of the year — something that becomes a Georgetown women’s basketball staple,” said senior guard Monica McNutt, the Hoyas’ second-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game.
McNutt and top scorer Sugar Rodgers (18.2 points per game), a sophomore guard, have been at the forefront of Georgetown’s resurgence. McNutt (Holy Cross) is a two-time team captain and is second all-time at Georgetown in three-point field goals (81) and ninth in steals (190). Rodgers, meantime, is well on her way to becoming among the most decorated players in program history. She’s already 15th all-time in points (1,162) and last season was named an honorable mention all-American.
Muscling in on area basketball supremacy has been a relative breeze, though, compared with generating interest approaching that of the Georgetown men’s team. These past two seasons at least have narrowed the disparity. Especially noteworthy this season was the women securing a higher NCAA tournament seed than the men for the first time.
“I think it’s just a matter of our university getting behind us, which they have done, and we really appreciate it, and just the awareness,” McNutt said. “Places like U-Conn. and Notre Dame, there’s nothing to do in the city but come see the women’s basketball game, the men’s basketball game. We’re competing with the nation’s capital.”
The city’s most prominent resident even overlooked the Georgetown women, who have won an NCAA tournament game more recently than their male counterparts. President Obama chose Princeton to win on Sunday, and players have been talking about that slight since the First Fan unveiled his official bracket.
Not that the Hoyas needed additional incentive entering the tournament, but a presidential snub actually may serve them well.
“The Barack one is like the motivation,” Rodgers said, only partly in jest. “We talk about it like every day.”