- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

George Washington is trying to keep rolling winners in Atlantic City.

The Colonials have won five straight going into their Atlantic 10 tournament opener tonight at Boardwalk Hall in New Jersey’s gambling resort. Third-seeded GW received a first-round bye and will meet sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s in tonight’s quarterfinal.

“I’m feeling pretty confident.” said Colonials coach Karl Hobbs, whose team is 20-8 overall and 11-5 in the A-10. “I think we have just as good a shot as anybody. We need to go in loose and play with a great deal of enthusiasm.”

GW likely needs to win the championship to return the NCAA tournament for a program-record third straight season. Xavier is seeded No. 1 and Massachusetts No. 2, and each likely will be considered for an at-large NCAA bid if it doesn’t win the tournament. If the seedings hold, the Colonials will meet the Minutemen in tomorrow’s semifinals.

GW is optimistic after rebounding from a four-game losing streak that ended its chances of gaining an at-large bid and threatened to derail the season. During the four defeats, which came immediately before the current winning streak, GW was hammered on the boards.

The Colonials have rallied because of improved play from their inexperienced front line of Dokun Akingbade and Rob Diggs and strong work from physical point guard Carl Elliott, who is averaging 13.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 3.0 steals in the five wins. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior recorded the first triple-double in GW history as the Colonials broke their losing streak against Temple.

“He has been invaluable and wants to end his career with a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament,” Hobbs said of his only starter back from last season. “He really separated himself and put himself in a special category. Each game, if he does not have a double-double, he is close to it. He understands these are the things he has to do for us to win basketball games.”

Elliott, who was named only to the all-conference third team along with backcourt mate Maureece Rice, plans to continue to set the tone. The Brooklyn native has been the steadying influence on younger players and now believes the current group can win the tournament.

“You can’t really say,” Elliott said. “I don’t know if freshmen are ever ready. But the way they have been playing, they’re ready.”

Rice averages a team-best 16.1 points and has made 12 of 24 3-pointers in the winning streak. However, the decisive element likely will be the frail frontcourt of Akingbade, Diggs and swingman Regis Koundjia. Akingbade played little his first three seasons and redshirted last year. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound senior has been outmuscled against bigger and more physical front lines, including those from Xavier and UMass.

The same is true for Diggs, a 6-8, 187-pound sophomore who has an excellent finesse game, and the 6-8, 224-pound Koundjia.

The Colonials did accomplish their regular season goal of finishing in the top four in the league and earning a first-round bye. It is even more important considering GW’s lack of depth after swingman Cheyenne Moore was lost for the season with a stress fracture of his left tibia.

“I couldn’t imagine us winning four games in a row,” said Hobbs, who led GW to its only tournament title two seasons ago. “Winning three games in a row will be difficult, but putting ourselves in that position will help our chances tremendously.”

Peter Lockley / The Washington Times

Guard Maureece Rice scored 16.1 points a game for the 20-8 Colonials this season.

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