- - Thursday, November 10, 2011

For Sugar Rodgers, no moment is immune from the therapeutic powers of a laugh.

“If you’re too serious, it can make you tense,” the Georgetown junior guard said. “I like to be loose and ready to go. Even if we’re playing UConn, I’m still going to crack a joke.”

Rodgers’ game is no laughing matter, however, even if she describes herself as “goofy.” She is a big reason why the Hoyas head into the season slotted No. 10 in the Associated Press poll — the school’s highest-ever ranking — and poised to make a run at Big East titans Connecticut and Notre Dame.

A unanimous preseason all-Big East selection after a season in which she averaged 18.7 points and 4.9 rebounds while leading Georgetown in scoring 25 times, Rodgers is the obvious focal point of the Hoyas’ offense.

“You are talking about one of the elite players in the country,” said ESPN women’s college basketball analyst Kara Lawson.”She has deep range, is fearless on the offensive end and very competitive.”

Added teammate Tia McGee: “With Sugar, it’s a matter of, if she wants to score, she’s going to score.”

Scoring has not been an issue for the 5-foot-11 Rodgers since she arrived on the Hilltop from Suffolk, Va. She is the school’s record holder for points (653) and 3-pointers (96) in a season, and already is No. 14 on the all-time scoring list with 1,233 points.

“I’ve got a sweet game. It comes with the name,” says Rodgers with a laugh.

But in order for her team to improve on its 24-11 mark from last season, Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy wants more than points from Rodgers.

“We are trying to get her to be a leader and we are trying to get her to work hard every day,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Things have come easy for her. She never developed the type of work ethic because she could beat anybody at anytime. Now, as a junior, she’s no longer a secret. This year, the scouting report will be, ‘Contain Sugar Rodgers.’ She needs to understand that.”

Last year, teams tried to take Rodgers out of the game with an array of tactics, but she said the increased defensive attention will not faze her.

“Triangle-and-two? Box-and-one? They’re trapping me?” Rodgers said. “I’m still going to play my game - nothing will change.”

Rodgers is one of 10 upperclassmen on the roster, including seven seniors who arrived together and stayed with the program as Williams-Flournoy moved the program from obscurity to prominence.

Several of those seniors, including Alexandria native Adria Crawford and diminutive point guard Rubylee Wright, will play major roles for the Hoyas in their fast-paced, trap-oriented style.

“The polls are expecting a lot from us, but this team expects even more,” Wright said. “We’re preseason top 10. We want to be No. 1.”

While a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament seems likely, the specter of last season’s defeat in the Sweet 16 — where the Hoyas folded down the stretch against perennial power UConn — still hangs over the team.

“It definitely gnaws at me, and I’m going to keep showing them the film to make it gnaw at them,” Williams-Flournoy said. “That was a game we gave away. Everyone was happy about us making it to the Sweet 16, but we could have been in the Elite 8. When given the opportunity, you have to take full advantage of it.”

For Rodgers, that means letting the Hoyas’ opponents know the joke is on them.

“We’re not just settling for making it to the Big East tourney,” she said. “And we’re aiming to get past the Sweet 16 - I’m sick of going there. We have to be ready to play every night.”

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