- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

The George Washington basketball team is so good, it no longer competes against the Atlantic 10. Rather, the eighth-ranked Colonials are playing against themselves.

At least according to Phil Martelli. The Saint Joseph’s coach knows about dominating the A-10, sweeping the conference in 2003-2004 en route to a 27-0 regular season.

“When you get to where GW is and where we were two years ago, you are competing against yourself,” said Martelli, who rode guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West to the Elite Eight that season. “You wind up trying to play the game at your standard of excellence. It seemed like the challenge they faced last week at Xavier that they are now in a position to challenge themselves.”

Saint Joseph’s can stop the Colonials from matching its perfect A-10 record today, when GW (19-1, 9-0 A-10) visits Philadelphia. With a win, the Colonials would have their best 21-game record in the program’s 89-year history.

The Colonials downed Saint Joseph’s 82-70 earlier this season; after the game Martelli said the score wasn’t “really indicative of the spread. They kind of dominated.” GW shot 60.4 percent in that game, while Carl Elliott had a team-high 20 points, making four of five 3-pointers.

It was part of a dismal first-half of the season for the young Hawks, who start a freshman, two sophomores and two seniors. Saint Joseph’s (10-10, 4-5) lost the next two conference games to start 1-4 in the league. Martelli admits there will be an air of “desperation” when the Colonials visit Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, a loud 3,200-seat gym.

“This is going to be the toughest game of the season up to date,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said. “I think because of the magnitude of the game. I think because Saint Joseph’s is 10-10, under .500 in the league. This is a big, big game for them. It’s a big game for us. It’s a nationally televised game. Plus it’s a tight, tight building. They are right on top of us.”

The Colonials have been unfazed since reaching the top 10, winning at Xavier and recording home blowouts over Richmond and Dayton. GW is forcing A-10 opponents into 17 turnovers a contest and 40 percent shooting.

The Colonials have fed off their smothering fullcourt pressure defense to convert easy fastbreaks. Six-foot-5 guard Danilo Pinnock is having a phenomenal season, averaging 15.3 points after finishing with 21 against Dayton.

“He plays with so much emotion,” GW forward Omar Williams said. “He is now playing under control, and you can really see it in his game.”

Pinnock’s emergence has created more room on the inside for Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who has been on a tear, averaging 18.6 points and eight rebounds his last five games.

GW expects to see a 3-point shooting barrage from the Hawks, who take 19.3 3-pointers a game and make 35.5 percent. The Colonials were able to get Saint Joseph’s out of its comfort zone in Washington by dictating a quick tempo.

The Colonials are well aware of their lofty position in college basketball right now. And although they appreciate the accolades and increased attention, they know first-hand how quickly it can disappear. GW worked its way into the Top 25 last season with wins over Maryland and Michigan State in December, only to drop out for a good after a pair of conference losses in January.

“Success comes as fast as it can go,” said Williams, who, like guard Maureece Rice, is from Philadelphia. “We lost two games last year and were right out of the Top 25. We learned a lot from that. We don’t want it to happen again.”

Notes — GW forward Rob Diggs, who did not play against Dayton after breaking his nose in practice earlier this week, will be available. The freshman forward will wear a plastic facemask. … The 1953-54 Colonials lost to N.C. State 81-63 in their 21st game, dropping them to 19-2.

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