- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

George Washington coach Joe McKeown clutched a manila folder as he sat in the stands during practice yesterday, discussing his team’s round-of-16 NCAA women’s tournament game Sunday night against top-seeded North Carolina.

Labeled “2007 NCAA Tourney, Dallas Regional,” the folder held sheets filled with scribbling about strategy. McKeown also wrote this reminder on the top page: “Call Notre Dame.”

He does plan to seek tips from Irish coach Muffet McGraw, whose team led the Tar Heels in the second half before losing a second-round game Tuesday night. McKeown also can rely on his own know-how, though, given that the highlight of GW’s program was an upset of North Carolina in the 1997 tournament.

Just like it was back then, GW is seeded fifth. Once again, UNC is seeded No. 1 And, in the most significant parallel, a spot in the final eight is at stake.

“Beating North Carolina in the tournament, which is not easy, would kind of reincarnate our program on a national level,” McKeown said. “Even getting to the round of 16 has been a good push for us. We just want to keep going because you just don’t know how many times you’re going to get back here.”

The Colonials (28-3) were ranked as high as No. 8 this season and owned a 19-game winning streak until they were surprised by Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals. But by beating 12th-seeded Boise State and No. 4 Texas A&M;, GW advanced to the NCAA round of 16 for only the third time. Even though the Colonials have won their opening game in 12 of 14 appearances, they have lost in the second round nine times.

“This is my first time going to the Sweet 16 and it’s GW’s first time in a long time,” guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence said. “I’m tired of losing in the second round.”

The team’s last trip to the third round came in 1997. That year the Colonials pulled off a 55-46 victory over a UNC team that included Marion Jones — yep, track star Marion Jones — before losing to Notre Dame in a regional final.

“It was kind of cool to be on the floor with an Olympian,” said Tajama (Abraham) Ngongba, a key player on the 1997 Colonials and now an assistant coach. “She was quick with the ball in her hand. It was like lightning.”

While the big speeches are being saved for closer to Sunday night’s game, some current players have talked to Ngongba — GW’s career scoring leader — about her team’s success.

“They do ask questions like, ‘Did you all think you could beat them?’ I tell them we went into that game knowing we could win,” Ngongba said. “They were the No. 1 seed, but for us in this tournament, seeding is irrelevant. We know now we can play with anyone in the country. And that’s what Coach had us thinking going into that game.”

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