Friday, March 18, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Carl Elliott made funny faces, trying to distract J.R. Pinnock as he answered questions for a television interview.

The other members of the George Washington Colonials were laughing and goofing around after their final full practice before tonight’s NCAA tournament game against Georgia Tech.

If the Colonials were feeling any pressure to perform in their first trip to the tournament since 1999, it sure didn’t show.

Coach Karl Hobbs wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

“We are loose,” Hobbs said. “To an extent, we may be too loose. I think we’ll be ready to play. I think they are pretty focused.”

And clearly pretty happy.

The Colonials (22-7) are enjoying their moment and all the attention that comes with their Atlantic 10 tournament title and NCAA berth.

Still, the question for the Colonials is, how long can they make that moment last? GW is the 12th seed in the Albuquerque regional and is given little chance of upsetting No. 5 Georgia Tech at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

Georgia Tech returns the core of its national runner-up squad from last season’s NCAA tournament, and after a rocky regular season the Yellow Jackets finally are showing signs that they are up for another deep run.

The Yellow Jackets have played strong since shooting guard B.J. Elder returned from a hamstring injury 10 games ago, particularly in ousting then-No. 2 North Carolina last weekend in the ACC tournament at MCI Center.

Georgia Tech is expected to cruise, and that assumption is just fine with the Colonials.

“Nobody expects us to win”, said Pinnock, the Atlantic 10’s sixth man of the year and the Colonials’ second-leading scorer. “We just have to go out and have fun. We just have to keep on running, and hopefully their guys will get tired. They like to run, too, so it should be a real exciting game.”

Even the coach relishes the idea that he has nothing to lose.

“It is nice to have all the pressure on Georgia Tech,” Hobbs said. “It has been a long time since we weren’t the favorite and all the pressure wasn’t on us to win.”

Both teams look to push the ball, and a game in the 80s is likely. Georgia Tech is more physical, while GW hopes to make it a full-court game.

The Colonials have versatile athletes with point guard T.J. Thompson, rim-rattler Pops Mensah-Bonsu, rebound maven Mike Hall and do-it-all forward Omar Williams.

Thompson will the key to the Colonials’ up-tempo attack and to slowing Tech’s break, particularly Will Bynum and Jarrett Jack.

“We have to keep them off the backboard and not allow second shots, control their transition game and force them to take outside shots”, said Hobbs, who hopes an up-and-down game will neutralize Tech’s 7-foot-1 center, Luke Schenscher.

One thing Hobbs said will not be a factor is stage fright. The Colonials beat then-No. 11 Michigan State and then-No. 12 Maryland in the BB&T Classic in December.

“There won’t be any [jitters],” Hobbs said. “We played at Wake Forest. We played against Michigan State. We played at Maryland. We never had jitters, and we have been in some great situations. We went to play at West Virginia and responded in a big, big way.”

The Colonials had a shootaround last night at Gaylord and will have another one this morning, then return to the hotel and wait for their late-night tip-off.

“We have been here since Tuesday morning and we still have a whole day to wait,” Thompson said. “We’re ready to play.”

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