WASHINGTON – The women’s basketball team’s worst enemy in the first half became its best friend after intermission.
After shooting 2-for-8 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes, the No. 15 Owls hit 12 of 14 free throws in the game’s final minute and a half to dispatch host George Washington, 70-62, in the Atlantic Ten Championship game on Monday night. The win marked the Owls’ second consecutive A-10 title.
The Owls’ postseason seed will be determined Sunday when the selection committee fills out its bracket for the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Though the Owls (27-3, 16-0) jumped out to an early lead, the Colonials (22-8, 13-3) stayed within reach behind the play center Anna Montanana. Montanana scored nine of the Colonials’ first 11 points against senior forward Ari Moore, who defended another all-America candidate Saturday in Xavier’s Tara Boothe. Moore had trouble with Montanana’s range, but said she drew on her past experience covering the all-conference center.
“In my sophomore year, Montanana hit a game-winning shot against me at the Liacouras Center,” Moore said. “She’s a great player who is going to make shots and get calls in her favor. There’s no bad part of her game. I had to keep from making contact with her.”
Coach Dawn Staley said Moore has consistently covered top frontcourt players.
“Ari has been a defensive force for us all year,” Staley said. “I give her an assignment and she’s going to stick to it.”
Despite a national ranking and a 24-game win streak, the Owls played like they had nothing to lose. They scrapped for loose balls against Montanana and forward Jessica Simmonds, the Colonials’ secondary post threat. But midway through the second half three of the Owls’ starters, including junior center Candice Dupree, were in foul trouble.
With 2:45 to play, the Colonials pulled within four points.
Dupree hit two key shots to silence both 6-0 and 8-0 runs by the Colonials. GW coach Joe McKeown said Dupree’s offense was crucial.
“Dupree hit a lot of big shots. The focus of what they do is to run the ball through her,” McKeown said. “We did a pretty good job with her at times, but when we needed to [stop her] most, we broke down.”
The Colonials hit two three-pointers on consecutive possessions to come within six points with a minute to play. With both teams in the penalty, the Colonials put senior point guard Cynthia Jordan, who is the program’s all-time leader in free throw percentage, at the line.
Jordan hit both attempts and then Moore hit another two. The Owls sank a combined 12-of-14 in the last 90 seconds to seal the win.
Dupree led the way for the Owls with 21 points and nine rebounds, missing a double-double by one rebound for the second straight night. All of the Owls’ starters scored in double figures.
Montanana scored a game-high 26 points, followed by Simmonds, who had 22.
In addition to being crowned A-10 champs, Moore and Dupree were named to the all-championship team following the game. Dupree received the Most Outstanding Player award, averaging 19 points and 7.7 rebounds in three games.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.