- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 25, 2006

Life without Pops begins in the Bronx.

The next stop in George Washington’s record-slashing season is Fordham, where the sixth-ranked Colonials will try to win without senior center Pops Mensah-Bonsu, out with a slight meniscus tear in his left knee.

GW brings a program-high 15-game winning streak to New York City. The Colonials (23-1, 13-0 Atlantic 10) are one victory away from tying the school-record for a season and three wins away from becoming the fourth team in the A-10’s 30 years to record an undefeated regular season.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Mensah-Bonsu injured his knee Wednesday in a win over La Salle and is expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season and possibly the A-10 tournament. Suddenly, GW faces the prospect of possibly finishing the season without its second-leading scorer (13.1) and rebounder (7.1).

“We are going to make the necessary adjustments to him not being around,” said point guard Carl Elliott, who expects the offense to become more guard-oriented with Danilo Pinnock, Maureece Rice and himself looking to penetrate and score more.

The Colonials’ pressing style won’t change, but their halfcourt offense will have to be retooled. GW has a deep bench, but Mensah-Bonsu plays the one position where there is no proven backup.

Starting forwards Omar Williams and Mike Hall can fill in at the pivot, while Alex Kireev, a 6-foot-11 Ukrainian, will get an expanded role and provide muscle in the middle. The loss should also mean more minutes for explosive forward Regis Koundjia, who had season highs in points (13) and minutes (27) against La Salle.

“I need to get more rebounds because Pops is out, and block shots and play great defense,” said Koundjia, a former top-100 recruit who transferred from Louisiana State. “I am not worried about offense.”

Despite GW’s adversity, the Rams (12-14, 7-6) don’t figure to be a strong upset contender, as they have lost three straight and are on their way to a 13th consecutive losing season. GW next visits St. Bonaventure, which has lost 13 of its last 14 and almost assuredly will fail to make the 12-team conference tournament. The Colonials should get a stern test from second-place Charlotte (17-9, 10-3) in their regular-season finale at Smith Center March4.

GW has to redefine itself, perhaps with more of a reliance on perimeter players. And the defense will see different looks as opponents are no longer afraid of attacking the post.

“I would think most teams will try to go inside from an offensive standpoint because we will be down an inside defender,” Colonials coach Karl Hobbs said. “I think that will be the biggest challenge.”

Kireev, a 250-pound senior, provides bulk and averages 2.3 points and 6.4 minutes in 21 games, but is not nearly as athletic as Mensah-Bonsu. The wiry 6-8 Koundjia is an excellent athlete and shot blocker, but is not nearly the physical presence.

“[Kireev] has always responded when we called on him, and I think he will this weekend,” Hobbs said. “I think [little-used freshman] Robert Diggs’ role will be impacted. And I think Regis, all the guys off the bench, will need to become more involved in what we do.”

The Colonials may eventually be better for the experience as several reserves will get valuable playing time in important situations. GW has played without Mensah-Bonsu before, when he was suspended for three games at the start of the season for violating NCAA rules related to his entry in the NBA Draft. The Colonials won all the games over lightly regarded opponents.

Now, the Colonials will find out if they can match their effectiveness in more important games, as they intend to use the regular season’s final games to set up a deep postseason run.

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