- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

While the top-ranked and defending national champion Maryland women’s basketball team is grabbing all the attention in the area, a few miles away the George Washington Colonials are quietly going about their business with a national ranking.

The 20th-ranked Colonials have achieved their highest ranking in the last five years.

“I certainly understand when you win a national championship that you’re going to have, not just the X on your back, but also the attention of the media, especially the local media, and somewhat the national media, too,” GW coach Joe McKeown said. “I feel like we’ve been so good so for so long that maybe we just get taken for granted sometimes. I thought [Maryland coach] Brenda Frese had an interesting quote when she said, ‘We weren’t good enough to play GW until this year.’ Meaning, GW has been pretty good for a long time.”

That’s not an understatement. In his 18th season at GW, McKeown has posted 15 20-win seasons and reached the regional finals of the NCAA tournament in 1996-97 with a school-record 28 wins. Under McKeown, the Colonials have made 15 NCAA tournament appearances.

GW’s players don’t seem overly concerned about flying under the radar. They also realize that the undefeated Terps (12-0) have earned everything they’ve received by winning last season’s national championship and returning all five starters.

“Any time you’re ranked No. 1 in the country, you’re going to generate a lot of press,” junior guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence said. “They’re a good team and they proved that when we played them. You can’t really be upset being ranked No. 20 and not getting as much attention as the No. 1 team in the country.”

At 8-2, GW’s record ties for the fifth-best start in school history, equaling the same 10-game record of the 1985-86 team. The four teams with better starts all posted 23 or more wins and advanced at least to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

GW’s only losses this season have come against two top-five programs — Maryland and No. 5 Tennessee — on the road. Despite losing 73-48 to the Terps on Nov. 19 in the BTI Classic at Maryland’s Comcast Center, the Colonials played the defending national champs tough in the first half before the game got away from them in the second half. Despite the loss, the Colonials broke into the Associated Press’ top-25 poll for the first time this season after the defeat.

Against Tennessee on Dec. 7, the game was within reach until about the eight-minute mark, when Vols forward Sidney Spencer hit back-to-back 3s, igniting a 16-1 run. While Tennessee eventually won 85-62, GW took some positives away from that game as well. Six-foot-4 center Jessica Adair scored a career-high 23 points on Tennessee consensus first-team All-American forward, 6-4 sophomore Candace Parker, and the Colonials rose a spot in the polls.

“She doesn’t play defense,” Adair said of Parker. “It didn’t seem like she played defense.”

The Colonials opened the season somewhat shorthanded with Jazmine Adair, Jessica’s 6-3 twin sister, limited with stress fractures in her left foot. Jazmine Adair didn’t play against Maryland and played just 10 minutes against Tennessee, but her return should improve the team heading into Atlantic 10 play.

“I think I would have made a big difference [against Maryland],” Adair said. “I bring a lot of energy and excitement to the team. I think I could have meant a lot.”

Today’s game against Auburn (9-2) at Smith Center gives the Colonials another opponent from one of the power conferences. A win over the Tigers just might get people to notice the Colonials.

“If you go to the NCAA tournament, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the papers or not, you’re still going to go,” Colonials point guard Kim Beck said. “We’re just content with a good season. It really doesn’t matter if our name is in the paper.”

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