Virginia Tech 66, George Washington 64 (Women)
Sunday, February 21, 1999

For almost two full seasons now, Virginia Tech has been sending the message to the George Washington Colonials that GW's reign of dominance in the A-10 West is over. GW hasn't seemed to be getting the message, calling Tech's three straight wins over them last year "a fluke."

Right or wrong, GW could say that, because while the Hokies were winning the battles, GW was arguably winning the war. The Colonials won their fifth straight A-10 West regular season championship last year and were picked in the preseason to win it again this year.

But it was the Hokies who got out of the gate fast this year, and again made their point with a 74-65 win at GW on January 10th. Bonnie Henrickson talked a little trash after the game, saying, "They (GW) got every first-place vote but one. They didn't get ours."

The two teams parted ways that January day and proceeded to rip through the rest of their A-10 schedules. Tech stumbled at Xavier along the way, and it set up a rematch with GW in the season-ending tilt that was going to be for the A-10 West championship.

But GW also stumbled against Xavier, and suddenly, with Tech's victory over Rhode Island last week, the Hokies sealed their first A-10 West championship. GW's reign was over, and the last Tech home game against the Colonials was diminished in importance where the Atlantic 10 standings were concerned.

But it remained important in other ways. The Hokies hold dreams of hosting some NCAA tournament games, and a stumble against GW would have damaged their chances of that, particularly if the Hokies don’t fare well in the A-10 tournament next weekend.

Add to that the spice of the GW rivalry, plus the fact that it was Tech's Senior Day, plus the fact that Tech was driving for a record-setting 13-0 home mark, plus another large Cassell crowd was anticipated …and you have the makings of a don't-miss game.

GW has two great players, center Noelia Gomez (#51) and guard Elisa Aguilar (#43), but unfortunately for them, Aguilar was missing her fifth straight game with a stress fracture injury. Had I known that going in, I would have just about guaranteed a win by Tech. The Hokies seem to have GW's number the last couple of seasons, and it's not likely that they can lose one of their star players and still hang with Tech.

And for the first twenty minutes, I was right. 8,079 fans settled into their seats, and the Hokies played cat-and-mouse with the Colonials. Tech started their five seniors - Drinka, Witherspoon, O'Conner, Houseright, and Albertsson - and the Hokies struggled for a few minutes. Then they jumped all over GW, going out to a 12-4 lead.

GW would close the gap behind the stellar play of Gomez, who is really a spectacular player. She is smooth and can score from anywhere. GW didn’t have much other than Gomez to brag about, but they managed to cling to the Hokies, and were down only 23-19 with three minutes to go in the first half.

Then Tech exploded. The Hokies put up 10 straight points on GW to close the half, including a three-pointer and a clear-out drive by Witherspoon for the last five points. Tech was up by 14, the Cassell was rocking, and GW was reeling. The Colonials' injuries and fatigue seemed to be catching up to them.

At the half, Tere Williams had 8 points and Katie O'Conner had 8 points. More telling is that the Hokies were moving the ball crisply on offense and were shutting GW out on their offensive boards. GW was one-and-done for the entire half. Tech looked totally in control.

With the start of the second half, Tech didn't let up. The Hokies put up their twelfth straight point to take a 35-19 lead, and finally GW woke up. The visitors started hitting their shots and making a run, but the run was hidden for a brief time by some modest Tech offensive success.

The Hokies had a comfortable 41-27 lead and didn't appear to be in any danger, but appearances can be deceiving. Tech started missing shots, and the fact that GW was making everything suddenly became painfully apparent. GW would hit a Sahara-hot 17 of 25 in the second half (68%), which by my count included 8 of their first 11.

From the time it was 41-27, GW hit their shots with confidence, played good defense, and started picking up some offensive boards, as well, and before the Hokie faithful and their team knew what was going on, GW was putting the cap on a 17-2 run and had a 44-43 lead.

During that run, not only did Gomez continue to score, but center Petra Dubovcova started kicking in, as did guard Kristeena Alexander. GW was getting open shots and hitting them, plus, unfazed by the Cassell crowd, they hit their free throws, too (11-11 for the game). Dubovcova only had 2 points in the first half, but she finished with 16.

GW's 44-43 lead came with ten minutes to go in the game, and from then on, it was a dogfight. Like GW, Tech was fighting with one hand tied behind their back at the guard spot. Amy Wetzel still had not fully recovered from the flu, and it showed in her play, as she hit only 1 of 10 shots. She also had two apparently wide-open shots blocked when she was slow in delivering them.

The responsibility for carrying the team, therefore, fell upon Tere Williams, Katie O'Conner, and Lisa Witherspoon. Williams scored ten points in the last ten minutes of the game and would finish 7-8 from the field and 6-6 from the line, with a team-leading 20 points. Katie O'Conner's silky-smooth jumper contributed 15 points on 7-10 shooting, and together with Williams, she balanced out a combined 4-25 from Houseright, Albertsson, and Wetzel.

Back and forth the teams went, and when the last media timeout came at 3:16, it was a 59-59 tie. Tech came out with a driving layup by Katie O'Conner to take the lead, and the Cassell Coliseum crowd got fired up with full voice.

I wouldn’t want to be an opposing team trying to win a close game in Cassell. When that place gets going, the volume can build to ear-bleeding levels, and indeed, the next two minutes saw a GW turnover, a Katie O'Conner layup off of her own offensive rebound, and a Tere Williams steal. Up 63-59, the Hokies looked to be in good shape with 1:20 to go.

But Michelle Houseright missed a wide open jumper, and GW replied with a deep three by Marlo Egleston with 44 seconds to go, and the drama continued.

Tere Williams hit an awesome baseline turnaround for a 65-62 lead, and with the clock under ten seconds, GW surprisingly took - and made - a two-pointer. The Colonials then fouled Tech's Katie O'Conner with 4 seconds to go, and after Katie-O made one of two for a 66-64 margin, GW's Alexander just barely missed a running two-pointer.

After that, it was all over but the crying. First, GW cried because they had lost, and then Tech's basketball team and fans cried during the post-game Senior Day ceremonies. Even the Hokie Bird cried, because he got the naughty-naughty signal from Bonnie Henrickson after he started a "Bonnie, Bonnie, Bonnie!" chant in the crowd.

It was a great way for the five seniors to end their careers, particularly Michelle Houseright, whose life has undergone a total upheaval since she was a star sophomore for Tech, and the much-loved Lisa Witherspoon, who will be sorely missed next year.

The ladies now head to Philadelphia, where they will get a first round bye in the A-10 tournament and will open play next Saturday. Having finished the season 25-1, including a record 13-0 at home, it's arguable that the ladies have already won the right to host an NCAA sub-regional, so hopefully, if the tournament seeding committee does the right thing, we'll see this bunch at home for one or two more games.

USA Today game recap

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