Women's Basketball:
George Washington 76, Virginia Tech 64
Cassell Coliseum, 1/9/00
by Will Stewart

Of course, athletic contests often tend to consists of several "streaks" and momentum swings, but rarely does a game go back and forth like this one.

GW got off to a good start in this one and led 13-7 after about seven minutes of play. That doesnít exactly sound like the Colonials were dominating, but indeed, at this point, GW was completely in control of the game.

That ended quickly, however, when the Hokies, led by sophomore guard Chrystal Starling and senior center Kim Seaver, came roaring back and dominated the Colonials for the remainder of the half, taking a 34-29 lead into half time.

For those last 13 minutes of the half, the Tech team looked better than I have seen them look so far this year. To this point in the season, the going has been rough (more on that later), but in the latter stages of the first half of this game, the team was finally clicking and in charge.

Early in the second, the Hokies extended the lead to 37-31, but with about sixteen minutes to go, Tech suddenly folded. Star forward Tere Williams picked up her third foul at that point and was seated on the bench, and GW proceeded to embark on a 19-3 run that would see them swing the game completely in their direction and take a 50-40 lead with 11:38 to go.

During the first half, Williams had spent extended time on the bench after picking up her second foul, but her absence hadnít hurt the team, as Kim Seaver came in and used her size to dominate the smaller, quicker GW team. Seaver had 8 points in limited minutes in the first half, and along with Starlingís hot shooting, the Hokies had been able to take the half time lead.

In the second half, though, with Williams out and Starling and Seaver mostly silent, the Hokies had no one to step into the void. In the meantime, GW snapped out of their offensive funk and seemed to hit everything they shot, hard or easy, open or guarded. The Colonials wound up shooting 25-49 for the game.

When GW was done with their run and had the ten-point lead, the Hokies picked themselves up off the mat and went to work. Behind great defense and the scoring and rebounding of Nicole Jones, the Hokies started the long climb back and eventually tied the game at 56-56 with a 16-6 run.

There were six minutes to go at this point, and it appeared that a tight barn-burner was in store. But alas, the Hokies wilted under the GW pressure as the last six minutes unwound. The Colonials kept hitting their shots, and the Hokies didnít, and GW put together a game-closing 20-8 run to put the Hokies away.

Missing the Point: Against Georgia, Duke, Virginia, and now GW, the Hokies have displayed an alarming tendency to shrivel down the stretch. Tech struggles on offense and generally seems to be fighting to find its chemistry. At times, the Hokies play well, but they have gotten into the habit of falling behind good teams by ten or more points, fighting back, and then having nothing left for the end.

It is obvious at times like these how much the Hokies miss last yearís floor leaders, Lisa Witherspoon and Michelle Houseright. When the team needed a pickup last year, those two could be counted on to provide it, but this year, the team is looking for consistent leadership.

A large part of the problem is that the Hokies donít have a true point guard at the moment. Emily Lipton, who is out with a stress fracture, was expected to take the reigns from Witherspoon. Emily is a freshman, and to be honest, in the few games I saw before her injury, she was struggling. In the true measure of a point guard, assist-to-turnover ratio, she had 29 turnovers for her 26 assists. For comparison, the untouchable Witherspoonís ratio ran nearly 3-to-1, if memory serves correctly.

Emily is the anointed point guard of the future, and the growing pains were to be expected. Often times, Coach Bonnie Henrickson would sit Lipton down for long stretches (Emily only averaged 23 minutes a game in the eight games she played, despite being Techís only true point guard) and play Amy Wetzel at the point, instead.

There were a number of times where the guard lineup of Starling and Wetzel faired much better than Lipton paired with Starling or Wetzel, but nonetheless, it was necessary to play Emily, because in the long run, she needs to be the point guard, not Wetzel or Starling. Liptonís extensive floor time was given with an eye towards developing the talented freshman for the future.

But now regardless of Liptonís status, the Hokies are struggling in the offense. Starling and Wetzel are a productive duo, but you can tell when you watch them that neither one was made for the role of point guard, which has been taken over by Wetzel in Liptonís absence. In this particular game against GW, Wetzel played the full 40 minutes at the point. To her credit, she had 5 assists and only one turnover.

Hicks in the Tank: perhaps more troubling than the situation at point guard is the inability of Sarah Hicks to find her shot. Hicks, a sophomore who returns after taking a medical redshirt last year, is counted on to provide punch from behind the three-point line, but so far, she has been firing blanks, and it has been costly.

The statistics tell the tale. To date, Sarah has taken 99 of the Hokiesí 143 three-point shots. Amy Wetzel, with 17 attempts, is the only other Hokie with more than ten, so itís obvious that Hicks is the designated three-point gunner. The problem is, sheís missing the mark, only hitting 27 of her 99 three-point shots (including an 0-for-7 against GW), for a percentage of 27.3%. As a whole, the team is shooting 26.7% from behind the arc, and their opponents have made 54 three-pointers to the Hokies 37.

Hicks is getting good open looks, but theyíre just not falling. So what gives? Who knows? But as the cold streak continues, her confidence is no doubt crumbling. When the wide-open threes donít go in, what else is a three-point shooter to do? The answer: just keep shooting, and Sarah has been given the go-ahead by Bonnie. Itís her or nobody, although Chrystal Starling was a very pretty 2-for-2 from behind the arc against GW.

The good news for Sarah is that the rest of her game is doing well. Sheís Techís third-leading rebounder at five boards per game, and against GW, she had 4 assists, second on the team.

Starling the Star: all last year, as Chrystal Starling was ineligible to play, I heard through the grapevine that she was a phenomenal basketball player. And fourteen games into the season, it looks like the grapevine was correct, and that sheís just starting to hit her stride.

Simply put, Starling is smooth and is Techís best athlete. She dribbles well, sheís quick, and she jumps well. When she elevates on her shot, itís one of the better jumpers youíll see in the vertically-challenged womenís game. Against GW, she nailed the only two three-pointers she took, and she really should have taken more. With Sarah Hicksís struggles, another three-point shooter is needed, and with Wetzel at point, that task falls to Starling.

But where Starling really excels is in space. When sheís running the floor or the defense isnít set up yet, sheís a pleasure to watch as she threads her way through scattered players. Historically, the Hokies have relied on crisp passing to create open shots, but Chrystal makes her own openings. Wetzel is more of a bull-rusher when she drives, but Starling tends to knife into the open spot and shoot, instead of plowing her way through like Wetzel.

Starling adds a real spark to the offense when sheís in, and her minutes are on the rise. Against GW, she led the Hokies with 16 points, and itís the third time in the last five games that she has led the Hokies in scoring. On a team with Tere Williams, thatís saying something.

Where to Go from Here? Itís obvious that this yearís team is not as complete as last yearís team, and to date, it is suffering from inconsistency, a lack of confidence, and a lack of chemistry. But the GW game was the first time that the team has played well, really well, for long stretches against a quality opponent.

One thing to remember about this team is that itís young. The starting lineup of Wetzel, Starling, Nicole Jones, Tere Williams, and Sarah Hicks consists of two juniors and three sophomores (Wetzel and Williams are the juniors). Thatís right: all five starters, plus the freshman Lipton, return next year.

In such a situation as this, it would behoove the team, its fans, and its coaching staff to be patient. When youíre this young, every game is a learning experience, and the players are still trying to figure out their roles. Tere Williams, for one, misses being "Spoon-fed" the ball five feet from the basket like she was last year, but sheís working on adjusting and rounding out her game.

The great thing about watching a team this young is that they develop right before your very eyes. The injury to Lipton throws a wrench into the works, because anything that the team learns chemistry-wise in her absence will have to be adjusted when she returns. And thatís a shame. Till then, at 9-5, theyíre still one of the best teams in the A-10, and a conference championship is possible. It will take a lot of improvement, but it can be done.

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