- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — George Washington has flirted with college basketball’s elite during this monumental season, spending most of the year in the top 10 and compiling the best record in the country.

This afternoon, the Colonials will find out whether they truly belong with the best.

“It’s Duke — Coach K, J.J., Shelden,” Colonials guard Danilo Pinnock said. “If you have a chance to play against Duke — Coach K, what that program means, what those four letters across their jersey mean — I am just soaking it in. To have an opportunity to play against them in this setting with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line is just great.”

As they began preparation for the Blue Devils yesterday, the Colonials (27-2) were still basking in the victory over UNC Wilmington on Thursday, when they trailed by 18 points before winning 88-85 in overtime — the program’s first NCAA tournament win in 12 seasons. The Colonials face the tournament’s top overall seed at Greensboro Coliseum for a chance to advance to the Atlanta Region semifinals.

“When I look down there [at Mike Krzyzewski], I will probably be scared,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said, half-joking. “Wow.”

Duke (31-3) has won three national championships and advanced to 10 Final Fours under Krzyzewski, the NCAA tournament’s all-time wins leader at 67.

The Blue Devils beat 16th-seeded Southern 70-54 on Thursday behind Shelden Williams’ 29 points and 18 rebounds. Duke will be playing its fifth consecutive game in Greensboro Coliseum after winning the ACC tournament here last week.

The Colonials, meanwhile, are looking to win two games in this tournament for only the second time in their history (the first was 1993). They are relishing the underdog role after feeling pressure in the first round.

“I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but I like it,” Hobbs said. “It sounds good.”

The Colonials trailed 64-46 midway through the second half Thursday before their fullcourt pressure created turnovers to start the comeback. Carl Elliott’s pair of 3-pointers in a 13-second span sparked a 19-0 run.

Pops Mensah-Bonsu scored 10 points in 27 minutes in his first game since Feb. 22. The Colonials lost without him in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament, severely hampering their seed.

But not surprisingly, Krzyzewski doesn’t see this game as a major mismatch, calling the Colonials’ No. 8 seeding “crazy.”

“Maybe they mischaracterized the [Mensah-Bonsu] injury factor,” Krzyzewski said. “This is a team that is deserving of a higher seed, obviously. You are not 26-2 and an eighth seed unless something else was considered. They are a championship team. They are older than we are. We think it is going to be one of our toughest games of the season.”

The Blue Devils probably will have to do a better job handling the ball to advance after committing 20 turnovers against Southern. Freshman point guard Greg Paulus committed seven but did have eight assists and four steals.

GW plans to use its strangling press to rattle Paulus and create turnovers. The Colonials forced Wilmington into 15 turnovers and scored 20 points off them.

“We know they are going to try to put pressure on us,” said Redick, the front-runner for national player of the year after averaging 27.4 points. “They are trying to get us to turn the ball over so they can get out in transition, where they really excel. Our assist-to-turnover ratio will be a big thing.”

The Colonials’ main goal will be to limit Redick and Williams. Redick is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer and makes 42.3 percent of his 3-pointers. Williams averages a double-double (18.7 points, 10.5 rebounds) and close to four blocks a game.

Omar Williams, a 6-foot-9 rangy forward, is expected to start on Redick, who is generously listed at 6-4. Mensah-Bonsu will be matched up with Shelden Williams, although he will get plenty of help from Mike Hall, Alex Kireev and Regis Koundjia.

“As far as Redick, I believe we will get a little more physical with him,” Elliott said. “Shelden Williams, it is about doubling and not allowing him to get easy buckets.”

The Colonials know they got away with an unlikely win Thursday and can’t afford to fall behind like that against Duke. However, the mesmerizing comeback has given them some confidence.

“It’s just a joy being around the show,” said Hall, whose Colonials were bounced in the first round by Georgia Tech last season. “I have been smiling all day. All our hard work is paying off, and we are seeing all the things Coach told us to dream about are actually coming true. We’ll see how good it gets after we win the next one.”

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