Ten years later, GW gets another shot at 1-seed UNC

Updated: March 21, 2007, 11:54 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- George Washington coach Joe McKeown clutched a manila folder as he sat in the stands during practice Wednesday, discussing his team's round of 16 women's NCAA Tournament game 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 as 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 a 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 A-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 George Washington has won its opening game in 12 of 14 appearances, it 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 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.''

GW's players certainly don't sound as if they'll be intimidated against the Tar Heels, who won the 1994 championship and are 32-3 this season.

"We're very confident,'' said Jessica Adair, whose scoring (13.1) and rebounding (7.8) averages lead the Colonials. "We know we're a good team.''

The 10th anniversary of GW's biggest women's basketball win is Thursday, and McKeown just might take a moment to admire the photograph of the 1997 postgame celebration hanging outside his office.

"Our program was so strong in the '90s, but after we beat North Carolina, losing that next game to Notre Dame for a chance to go to the Final Four really put a damper on what was a great season,'' McKeown said. "We were so close. I was thinking, 'We're knocking on the door. We're knocking on the door.' For whatever reason, we haven't been able to get back.''

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press