- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

John Goldsberry was perfect three years ago, but it wasn’t enough to eliminate the defending national champions.

The freshman point guard made all eight of his 3-pointers for UNC Wilmington, but Maryland’s Drew Nicholas hit a 35-footer as time expired to escape the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament.

On Thursday, Goldsberry and two other starters in that game — Beckham Wyrick and Mitch Laue — are back in the tournament for the first time since that excruciating loss. And again, they are facing another highly touted D.C. area team in 14th-ranked George Washington.

Eighth-seeded GW plays ninth-seeded UNC Wilmington at 7:10 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C., likely for the right to meet top-seeded Duke in the Atlanta Region.

“Hopefully that experience will give our guys confidence,” said UNC Wilmington coach Brad Brownell, who was a 34-year-old, first-year coach that season. “Hopefully it will help that they played against a big-name team and played well.”

The Seahawks (25-7) set a school-record for wins this season, winning the CAA tournament to earn the league’s automatic NCAA bid after sharing the regular-season title with George Mason. UNC Wilmington did pull an upset in the 2002 NCAA tournament when the 13th-seeded Seahawks beat fourth-seeded Southern Cal.

A win over GW hardly would be considered a major upset because the Seahawks are seeded just one spot below the Colonials. UNC Wilmington is the kind of team that could give GW fits: Its aggressive man-to-man defense holds opponents to 59.0 points and 38.6 percent shooting from the field.

The Colonials are subject to offensive lapses, particularly on the perimeter. GW was 6-for-25 from 3-point range in its first-round Atlantic 10 tournament loss to Temple, scoring a season-low 53 points. The questionable status of center Pops Mensah-Bonsu puts even more importance on the Colonials’ perimeter game.

UNC Wilmington has held five teams to less than 50 points this season, and it’s 0-4 when opponents have scored at least 70 points.

“We’re different from GW, which extends its defense and pressure,” said Brownell, who was an assistant for eight seasons at UNC Wilmington before taking over for current DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. “We play defense about 30 feet in. They play all 94 feet. We try to be physical and contest every shot.”

The Seahawks are a veteran group laden with juniors and seniors. They are led by the floppy-haired, bleach-blonde Goldsberry, last season’s CAA defensive player of the year. The 6-foot-3 playmaker averages 11.2 points, 5.1 assists and a league-leading 2.2 steals. Junior guard T.J. Carter, a Mechanicsville, Md., native who played at Chopticon High, is the team’s leading scorer at 13.3 points.

“[Goldsberry] is the son of a coach,” Brownell said. “His basketball IQ is very high. He is bright and can pass the ball. And he is as tough as nails. He’s really unselfish. He could score more points and do more things, but he just wants to win.”

Notes — GW coach Karl Hobbs said Mensah-Bonsu, who has been out since suffering a slight tear in the meniscus of his left knee Feb. 22, is close to playing.

“He is at the point where he is getting up and down the floor a little bit,” he said of the senior center. “And we are hoping he will be able to play on Thursday.” …

Some question remains over why GW did not get a better seeding, but NCAA tournament selection committee chair Craig Littlepage said Mensah-Bonsu’s unclear status was an issue.

“His situation seemed to be a little bit more nebulous based on the information we received and the situation that I related in terms of Villanova [Allan Ray’s eye injury],” said Littlepage, who is also Virginia’s athletic director. “I think also, again, if you look at the full body of work, we felt as though from a nonconference standpoint that it could have been a little bit more challenging, a little bit more rigorous.”

The Colonials had a particularly weak strength of schedule, especially out of its league, and faced only two NCAA tournament teams — A-10 tournament champion Xavier and N.C. State — this season.

Hobbs dismissed the poor schedule argument.

“Not at all,” said Hobbs, who is still smarting from what he perceived as a snub last season. “We played a very good nonconference schedule last year. We won the league [actually, the West division], and we won the tournament and were a 12-seed. It had no bearing whatsoever.”

GW went 21-8 during the regular season in 2004-05 and 11-5 in the A-10, which sent only one team to the NCAA tournament.

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