- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Pops Mensah-Bonsu caught the ball in the lane, spun around and dunked. The slam during a shootaround at Greensboro Coliseum wasn’t all that awe-inspiring, but it was enough to suggest the senior center can be a factor in George Washington’s NCAA tournament game tonight against UNC Wilmington.

Mensah-Bonsu underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee 16 days ago and should play for the first time in three weeks.

“I felt pretty good about the way I was moving,” said Mensah-Bonsu, who went full speed through about three-quarters of a two-hour practice earlier in the day at Greensboro College. “It is more the mental side with me. I am a little tentative to do a few things. Other than that I feel fine.”

GW coach Karl Hobbs wouldn’t speculate how much he would use the All-Atlantic 10 player after saying earlier in the week he hoped to have him for 10 or 15 minutes.

“I am not going to put a number on minutes on him,” Hobbs said. “We are going to see how the flow goes and see how he is doing. This is it. We’re not holding him for anything. If he can go, he will.”

The Colonials can add to a historic season with the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1994. GW boasts the nation’s best record at 26-2, went 16-0 in the A-10 regular-season and carried an 18-game winning streak into last week’s conference tournament. But doubters remain — most notably the NCAA tournament committee.

The Colonials received a No.8 seed in the Atlanta Region despite their accomplishments. The committee sighted Mensah-Bonsu’s status and a particularly poor nonconference schedule.

Not that the Colonials needed outside motivation. Seniors Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall, Omar Williams and Alex Kireev have been with the program through a losing season, a trip to the NIT and finally a spot in the NCAA tournament last season, when they entered as a 12th seed and lost in the first round to fifth-seeded Georgia Tech.

The group made history by winning the program’s first A-10 tournament last season and posting a school record for wins this season. They spent much of this season in the top 10 and became only the fourth team — and third program — in the A-10’s 30-season history to win all its regular-season games.

Now the Colonials hope to excel in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s the one thing that is missing,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “We have had a great season and made history, and no one can take away from the things we have done. At the same time we want to make our mark in the tournament, not just by winning one game but by going as far as we can.”

To do that, the Colonials will have to handle the Colonial Athletic Association champions. The ninth-seeded Seahawks are also a veteran group that set their school record for wins by going 25-7 and are riding an eight-game win streak.

Wilmington likes to keep a low-scoring game and grind out wins. It is led by strong guards in the CAA tournament MVP, junior T.J. Carter (13.3 points), and senior point guard John Goldsberry (11.0 points, 5.0 assists).

“They must have football at that school because they don’t mind blocking and tackling,” Hobbs said. “They don’t let you cut, they don’t let you move and a large part of the game is going to be based on what the officials are going to call a foul, what they are not going to call a foul. Are they going to let us be aggressive? Are they going to let them tackle us?”

Of course, the Colonials will need to shoot better than their last outing if they plan to have a potential second-round match with top-seed Duke. GW made only six of 25 (24 percent) 3-pointers in their A-10 tournament loss to Temple and scored a season-low 53 points.

The Colonials appeared loose yesterday afternoon, cracking jokes and looking comfortable. Players said last season gave them a taste of what the tournament is about, and they still are smarting after making only four of 16 free throws while losing by 12 in last season’s tournament.

“I hate to say it, but we were pretty much just happy to be there last year,” Hall said. “It was a new environment, and we didn’t adjust as well as we could have. This year we know what we are dealing with, playing in a big arena with increased attention. It is a lot different. We’re ready to play.”

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