Terri Williams-Flournoy was five seasons into rebuilding the Georgetown women's basketball program. The Hoyas were 17-13, about to earn a spot in the 2009 WNIT. They were improving.
They were also coming off consecutive losses to Big East also-ran Seton Hall and had not posted a winning record in conference play since 2000.
A change was in order, and Williams-Flournoy didn't want to wait as she and her coaches assessed the program.
"I said, 'You know what? I hate the way we play,' " Williams-Flournoy recalled Thursday. "They all turn around and looked at me and [assistant] coach Keith Brown was like, 'What do you want to do?' I said I want to press. I want to run up and down. I want to make this exciting. And the coaches looked at me and said, 'Well, do it.' "
Two years later, the fifth-seeded Hoyas (24-10) can advance to the first regional final in program history Sunday in Philadelphia with a victory over top-seeded Connecticut (34-1) in the round of 16.
They have their appealing style to thank for their success.
With her assistants onboard just before the 2009 postseason, Williams-Flournoy floated the possibility of a shift in on-court philosophy to her team.
"I said, 'OK, guys, do you all like the way we play?' " Williams-Flournoy said. "They all kind of looked at me, because they don't really want to say 'no.' I said, 'You can be honest.' And they were, like, 'No,' and I said, 'Good. I don't either.' "
She didn't wait to make the change. The Hoyas adopted a pressure-based approach and won three WNIT games. Then came a 26-win season a year ago, which coincided with the addition of star guard Sugar Rodgers.
The Hoyas give nearly every player permission to shoot in transition and employ multiple presses. As for getting players to buy into playing suffocating defense until a game is well in hand? It's a worthwhile price for avoiding a methodical offensive approach on each possession.
"I hated it," senior guard Monica McNutt said of the previous philosophy. "I can remember freshman year I was the kid streaking down the floor to get an easy layup in transition. Transition is so much more fun. It takes a lot of energy to come down in a halfcourt set to run an offense that screens, 30-second shot clock, all that. I think because we're undersized, that doesn't necessarily work in our favor. When we're beating teams up and down the floor and hitting shots, that's easy for us."
Williams-Flournoy also shifted 6-foot-2 Tia Magee to center to improve the athleticism and speed of Georgetown's starting lineup.
The Hoyas are undersized - but it doesn't matter considering the ease with which they create scoring opportunities off their defense.
"We have a lot of speed," Magee said. "We're not the biggest, and we're not the strongest, but we are really tough. That is one huge advantage we have."
Not everything about the Hoyas' surge was smooth. They dropped five of their last seven entering the tournament before ripping Princeton and Maryland in the first two rounds.
Then there was the adjustment to a style likely to lead to more miscues. For that, former Georgetown men's coach John Thompson Jr. offered Williams-Flournoy some sage advice.
"Understand there will be a few balls that will be thrown in the stands," Williams-Flournoy said. "You live with it. You get on defense, play has stopped and set your press back up again."
The results, though, are clear. Georgetown went from 10th in the Big East in turnover margin two years ago to first in 2011, and from 16th in assist-to-turnover ratio to seventh. Then there's the most obvious payoff: The program's first round of 16 appearance since 1993.
"The naysayers need to start looking a little bit harder, because what we have here hopefully is here to stay," McNutt said, "And we're running a great style of basketball."
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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