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The GW Hatchet

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Breaking News Colonial women win A-10 title, headed back to the Big Dance

Posted Mar. 10, 10:10 p.m.-In the biggest game of her career, Ugo Oha was at her best. The result was the GW women’s first Atlantic 10 tournament title since 1996, sending the Colonials back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.

The Colonials defeated Rhode Island 56-49 before a raucous crowd of over 1300 at the Smith Center in a tight contest that saw GW struggle offensively. Oha was their only weapon, posting a career-high 26 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight blocks.

“We work too hard to lose,” the junior center said. “Throughout the game my motivation was the seniors. Four years they’ve been here, and no cigar. I think that’s what helped us to win, that fire.”

The fire inside Oha was evident on two huge plays that led to the victory.

With GW clinging to a 44-42 lead midway through the second half, the Rams’ Denise King drove through the lane and attempted a lay up. But just as the ball left her hand, Oha stuffed it straight back at King, who fell to the floor. The ball landed on King, and fell out of bounds, giving GW possession as Oha let out an emphatic scream.

“That was a momentum change right there,” Oha said. “That block just came from the soul…I think it got our team pumped up and the crowd, too.”

As the clock crept into the closing minutes, GW still had a slight edge. Rhode Island had not managed to tie the game but the Colonials still could never distance themselves from the Rams. After missed lay ups by Cathy Joens and Anna Montanana could have given GW a two-possession lead, Marsheik Witherspoon inbounded from under the Colonials basket with 1:20 left.

The junior guard found Oha creeping into the lane, and the center went up quickly with a five-footer off the glass. She got the basket and a foul, and the Smith Center erupted.

“I think that play sealed the game for us,” Oha said. “I’m just glad my teammate found me.”

The A-10 crown means an automatic berth for GW into the NCAA tournament, and head coach Joe McKeown said he was glad his team did not leave that decision to the selection committee.

“We went 15-1 last year and then didn’t finish the job,” McKeown said, referring to their quarterfinal loss to Xavier. “We then paid a hefty price when we were left out of the NCAA tournament. I didn’t think our players were going to leave it up to chance (this year).”

The game was closer, however, than most thought it would be. For one thing, GW had humiliated Rhode Island 90-38 at the Smith Center in January. GW also led the A-10 in scoring this season at 73 points per game, while URI was second last with 60 points per game. But Rhode Island in the A-10 tournament looked nothing like Rhode Island in the regular season.

Playing on their home floor as the East No.5 seed, the Rams beat Dayton in the first round, and then upset East No. 1 St. Josephs and West No. 2 Xavier to get to the championship. After winning three games in three days, Rhode Island had a newfound confidence.

“We were coming in, we were strapping up, and we weren’t the 52-point (loss) team they saw in the beginning of the season,” King said. “This is how Rhode Island should have been playing all year long.”

The Rams started the game well, jumping out to a 14-6 lead. But a quick 10-0 run by GW put the Colonials back on top. The teams traded baskets and the lead over the remainder of the half, with GW struggling mightily from the floor.

The Colonials, who are 8th in the nation in field goal percentage, shot only 37 percent in the first half. They relied mainly on free throws, scoring seven of their last nine points of the half from the line. The Colonials entered the locker room with a 32-28 lead.

A-10 Player of the Year Cathy Joens only had five points at halftime on 2-of-6 shooting. Rhode Island was pressuring the ball heavily on the perimeter and leaving only one person in the lane, a strategy Rams’ head coach Boe Pearman said worked in their last few games.

“We know that we can’t go one on one in the post because we’re just not big,” Pearman said. “So we try to pressure the perimeter because that’s who’s feeding the post, and we try to shut that down.”

The Rams did just that to every player on the Colonials except Oha. Joens only attempted one more shot in the second half, and finished the game with eight points. Anna Montanana, who along with Oha was named to the All-Tournament Team, had nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.

With their offense struggling, Oha said they focused on defense in the second half, trying to just get stop after stop. Rhode Island, which shot 44 percent in the first half, was held to just 33 percent shooting in the second half.

Oha was named the tournament’s most outstanding player and when the final horn sounded she and her teammates mobbed each other at center court. They were followed by the GW student section, which ran onto the court to celebrate with the players.

Sunday the women will find out their seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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